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COVID-19 Preventative Measures: How To Use Cloth Face Coverings



Authors as Published

Renee Boyer, Professor and Extension Specialist, Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech; and Ben Chapman, Professor and Food Safety Extension Specialist, North Carolina State University

Face coverings can be an effective means of slowing the spread of the infectious agent for many respiratory illnesses and may help slow the spread of COVID-19. Wearing a face covering does NOT provide complete protection and does not replace other ways of slowing virus spread such as:

  • Staying away from public places & group gatherings
  • Practicing physical distancing
  • Washing hands and using hand sanitizer often 
  • Avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth


  • Cloth face coverings should be handled assuming they are contaminated with the virus causing COVID-19.
  • Cloth face coverings should be removed without touching the inside. They should be immediately placed with dirty laundry, or stored in a plastic bag until they can be properly cleaned.
  • Wash your hands after handling a used face covering or use hand sanitizer if hand washing is not an option. If possible, wash your face after removing a face covering.
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed in hot water after each use. Follow CDC guidelines at


  • Proper use may restrict the spread of virus from an infected person, specifically when someone doesn't know they have the virus.
  • Cloth face coverings are tested for their ability to trap viruses in respiratory droplets moving at high velocity, such as in a cough or sneeze.
an illustration showing how to wear a mask: covers nose and mouth, secured over ears/ behind head


  • Cloth face coverings can be uncomfortable to wear. A proper fit is tight over the nose, mouth and chin.
    • Shaving is not necessary for cloth face coverings or surgical masks.
  • Cloth face coverings can help reduce disease transmission but wearing one does not provide absolute protection.
  • According to CDC, wear cloth face coverings whenever interacting with the public or when caring for someone who is sick or may be infected.
  • It is not necessary to wear a face covering while at home or outside for exercise.
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Updated April 27, 2020

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Publication Date

April 16, 2020