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Here is how to wear a face mask or covering properly

Many people are wearing face masks in an effort to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

THERE HAS BEEN an increase in the number of people wearing face masks recently in a bid to stop the spread of Covid-19, but there is confusion about how to use them properly.

Some people have been wearing masks since the start of the pandemic but there has been another surge in demand since the government last week advised that face coverings be worn on public transport and in crowded places.

Wearing a face mask is not mandatory but many people are opting to in an effort to help prevent the spread of the virus.

There are are opposing views on the effectiveness of masks, but – if worn properly – they could help to stop Covid-19 from spreading.

Speaking at a government briefing last Friday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan warned that people “cannot regard face coverings as some kind of magic shield in relation to this disease”, adding that good hand hygiene and social distancing are still essential.

‘Not a magic bullet’ 

Holohan said he is “concerned” the advice about face coverings could be “interpreted in a way by people that meant that maybe we don’t need to worry about washing our hands as much or, if we wear a face covering, we can we can disregard the requirement in terms of social distancing – that is not the case”.

“So this is an additional hygiene measure. It’s not a magic bullet for this disease, and that has to be understood,” Holohan said.

Speaking at the same event, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reiterated this, saying: “We really need to emphasise that it’s an additional hygiene measure, it’s not a substitute for social distancing and for other forms of hygiene.”

Varadkar said people are encouraged to wear face coverings, rather than masks, to ensure masks can be saved for healthcare workers.

“That’s really important when it comes to surgical masks and when it comes to respiratory masks. While there is no shortage of them at the moment, if we had millions of people using them every day there’s a risk that it might lead to a shortage for healthcare workers.

“We don’t want that to happen so that’s why we’re advising face coverings in preference to face masks,” Varadkar stated.

When and how to wear a face mask

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has advised people to wear a face covering in the following circumstances:

  • When staying two metres apart from people is difficult – for example, in shops, shopping centres or public transport
  • in an enclosed indoor space with other people

The HSE has said cloth face coverings are not suitable for children under the age of 13 and anyone who:

  • has trouble breathing
  • is unconscious or incapacitated
  • is unable to remove it without help
  • has special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing the face covering

In terms of wearing a face covering, the HSE said it should cover a person’s nose, mouth and under their chin and:

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include at least two layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction

Here is the HSE’s advice on how to put on a face covering properly:


  • Clean your hands properly before you put it on
  • Practice using it so you are comfortable putting it on and taking it off
  • Make sure it is made from a fabric you are comfortable wearing
  • Cover your mouth and nose with it and make sure there are no gaps between your cloth face covering
  • Tie it securely
  • Carry unused face coverings in a sealable clean waterproof bag – for example, a ziplock bag
  • Carry a second similar bag to put used face coverings in


  • Do not touch a face covering while wearing it – if you do, clean your hands properly
  • Do not use a wet or soiled face covering
  • Do not share face coverings
  • Do not lower your face coverings to speak, eat and smoke or vape – if you need to uncover your nose or mouth take the face covering off and put it in the bag for used face coverings
  • Do not discard face coverings in public places

If you wear glasses, advice on how to stop them from fogging up while wearing a face mask can be read here. 

More advice from the HSE, and guidance on how to make your own face covering, can be read here.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued similar advice in terms of wearing face masks.

World Health Organization (WHO) / YouTube

The WHO’s advice is as follows:

  • Before putting on a mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  • Cover your mouth and nose with the mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask
  • Avoid touching the mask while using it – if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  • Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks
  • To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water

The WHO has stated that masks are only effective “when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water”.

“If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly,” the organisation noted. 

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