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A man and a woman wearing face masks.

How to wear a mask while working

With more and more businesses opening up, you might soon find yourself returning — or having recently returned — to work. And if your employer has instated new safety practices, as many have, you’ll likely find yourself asking the same questions a lot of us are right now. Namely, how in the world am I supposed to work with this employee face mask on my face? How do I make it safe? How do I make it comfortable?

Before we get to that, let’s cover what face coverings do and do not do. That way you’ll be better informed as to exactly why, and in what situations, you should be wearing them.

Face coverings do ... help limit the spread of your own germs

With a face covering, you’re less likely to send large particles careening through the air when you cough or sneeze. And that’s good for everyone — and every surface — around you. Your coworkers will thank you.

Face coverings do not ... protect you from others’ germs

Basic cloth face coverings, the type you’ll most likely be wearing in an office, retail or warehouse setting, do not filter the air. They can help guard against larger droplets, true. And they’ll even assist in making sure you don’t accidentally touch your nose or mouth. But they won’t protect you against smaller droplets released into the air by others (just like they won’t protect others from small droplets released by you). For that, you’ll need to follow other preventative measures. Speaking of ...

Face coverings do not ... replace other preventative measures

Face coverings are not a substitute for safe social distancing practices. They are merely a supplement. Maintaining a constant safe distance can be challenging in nearly any work environment. You’ll likely have to pass people in the hallway. You might accidentally surprise a coworker as you round a corner or open a door. In these situations, face coverings can be a helpful extra barrier, provided all parties are wearing them. But they are no substitute for keeping a regular safe distance when working or interacting with your coworkers. And they are only effective with frequent and thorough hand cleaning, either with alcohol-based disinfectant or soap and water.

Now, let’s talk about some things you can do to make wearing a mask safer — and more comfortable

Wear it right

First things first — if your mask isn’t covering your nose, it’s not working. Your mouth and nose should both be completely covered in order for your mask to be effective. If this is uncomfortable for you, or you frequently find your mask slipping, you’ll want to read the next step.

Find the right fit

Don’t be afraid to try different mask styles. Elastic over the ears may work great for some. Others may find masks with ties offer greater adjustability. Sometimes, the difference between “I can’t wait to take this thing off!” and “Hey, this isn’t so bad!” can be as simple as finding the right size. Or having soft and breathable fabric. It’s very possible to be comfortable in a mask — you just need to strike the right balance of fit and breathability. Plus a size that works for your unique face shape.

Wash your hands before and after touching your mask

You want to ensure you’re not getting germs on your mask before you even put it on. So wash up. And while you should do your best to avoid touching your mask throughout the day, we’re all human. We forget ourselves. It’ll probably happen eventually. Don’t panic, but do wash your hands to prevent further spread of any particles that may have gathered there. Same goes for when you take your mask off.

Remove your mask only when isolated at a safe distance

Eventually, you’re going to need to eat lunch (or take a drink, because hydration is important for health too). Just make sure you’re doing this in a safely distanced location. For some, that might be right at their desk or in their office. Others might find more luck in their car or outside. Consider packing extra custom work uniforms in your work backpack incase you need to change after leaving your work premises. Avoid higher trafficked areas like cafeterias or communal tables. And always remember to refer to your own company’s safety policies where available.

As challenging as these times and guidelines may be, always remember — you’re doing this to help keep you and everyone around you safe and healthy. And the fact that you made it this far in this article says you’re committed to making a difference. So go you! And stay safe out there.

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