EXPLAINED | Wearing face masks and gloves? You're probably doing it wrong

31 March 2020 - 11:21 By Unathi Nkanjeni
Experts say wearing masks and gloves may spread the coronavirus faster.
Experts say wearing masks and gloves may spread the coronavirus faster.
Image: 123RF/Dmitryi Epov

While the World Health Organisation (WHO) has strongly advised wearing a mask and gloves in public if you suspect you’re infected or someone you are caring for is, many people are probably doing it wrong.

On Monday, executive director of WHO health emergencies programme, Dr Mike Ryan, said there was no specific evidence to suggest the wearing of masks by the mass population had any potential benefit.

“In fact, there's some evidence to suggest the opposite in the misuse of wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly,” Ryan said at a media briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.

“There also is the issue that we have a massive global shortage. Right now the people most at risk from this virus are frontline health workers who are exposed to the virus every second of every day. The thought of them not having masks is horrific.”

To date, SA has 1,326 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Here is how to correctly use masks and gloves during the pandemic.

When and how to use face masks

There are two types of face masks for Covid-19 prevention, namely the surgical mask and the N95 respirator.

Surgical marks are typically used to protect the wearer from sprays, splashes, and large-particle droplets, or to prevent the spread of potentially infectious respiratory secretions from the wearer to others.

The respirator can filter out 95% of very small particles. This includes viruses and bacteria.

If the mask doesn’t effectively seal your face, you won’t receive the appropriate protection.

According to WHO, masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

If you wear a mask, you must know how to use it and dispose of it correctly.


Inappropriate mask use includes touching it and taking it on and off.

For example, you are wearing your mask, but lower it when you are driving or to chat to someone. You then place it in the correct position again. This is incorrect and makes wearing the mask pointless. Keep the mask on, covering you nose and mouth at all times. When removing it, immediately wash your hands.

When and how to use gloves

Gloves, similarly to face masks, don't heighten protection too much, and could even make you sick.

WHO explained that surgical gloves are recommended to be worn to reduce the risk of contamination of health-care workers' hands with blood and other body fluids, and to reduce the risk of germ dissemination to the environment and of transmission.

Inappropriate glove use represents a waste of resources and does not contribute to a reduction of cross-transmission. It may also result in missed opportunities for hand hygiene.

WHO said the use of contaminated gloves caused by inappropriate storage, inappropriate moments and techniques for donning and removing, may also result in germ transmission.


Wearing gloves and then touching unclean surfaces or food packaging that came into contact with the virus due to coughing or sneezing and then touching your face is dangerous.

Make sure you keep the gloves on at all times. Don't wear the gloves and remove them to do something, then put them on again.