There is a lot of back and forth over what is and is not the most effective mask to wear for optimal protection against the virus. Medical-grade masks like n95 masks are typically set aside for healthcare personnel and sick patients, but even these reserved masks have their own set of risk factors to include the surgical mask. From limited effectiveness rates to valves that expose unfiltered air, the potential risk of infection remains a harsh reality for those in the medical field and everyone else around them. With the best of the best set aside for professionals, the extended use of loose-fitting cloth masks increases the public risk of infection, and improper disposal of these masks increases these risks of infection as well. Although there may not be a 100% risk-free mask option for anyone, there are ways to wear all of these face masks so that they offer the most protection possible, given their limitations. To those who are required to wear or who selectively choose to wear medical-grade masks as their primary face coverings, please read on so that you can learn the ins and outs of mask usage, including how long to wear the same mask and still stay safe.
Remember the Guidelines
Before diving into all, you need to know about correct mask usage. Keep in mind that the protection you receive will depend on how well you follow the other health guidelines regarding the pandemic. Are you washing your hands regularly? Do you use hand sanitizer when you’re out in public? Are you remaining six feet apart as much as possible? Do you properly dispose of your gloves after use? Do you grab from the sanitized carts at the grocery store? These are all important questions to self-reflect on because they impact how effective your mask-wearing will be. As humans, sometimes we look at things linearly, and it can be easy to overlook valid aspects that impact a situation. Protection against the Coronavirus is no exception, so please, do your very best not to assume that wearing a mask alone is enough to protect yourself against infection. Every guideline has been introduced for a reason, and all act collectively to offer you the most protection possible.
Surgical Masks 101
A surgical mask is a disposable device to be worn only once, by the first user and not shared by others. Differences in thickness will vary, and some come with or without face shields. Other names surgical masks go by, including dental, isolation, and medical procedure masks. The purpose of a surgical mask is to prevent the spread and contraction of droplets of germs and bacteria. The masks specifically prevent the spread of these germs from reaching the mouth and nose area. Surgical masks are most effective at preventing larger droplets and particles in the air. Smaller particles are harder to catch, and the looseness of the fit to the face also makes total protection from germs an impossibility.
Surgical masks are a type of disposable mask. If you find it difficult to breathe while wearing the mask and recognize that you have been wearing the mask for an extended period, throw the mask out, wash your hands, and replace it with an unused one. You also want to throw out your mask if it has been damaged in any way. In response to the epidemic, there is an ongoing debate over whether a surgical mask is more effective at protecting against the spread of the virus than surgical n95 respirators. The FDA has recommended that both types be worn in specific situations, based on their purposes. Both surgical masks and n95 are generally reserved for health workers, with cloth coverings set aside for the general public.
To remove your face mask, remove it from the chin and then up, using the strings provided. Avoid touching the front of the mask. Once you have removed the mask, fold the material in half so that the mouth and nose sections are not exposed. By folding the mask in this way, you avoid exposing droplets that may have touched the mouth or nose area. Fold the mask once more, molding it into the shape of a roll. Place the rolled mask in a polythene bag or piece of tissue paper and dispose of it in a waste bag. Do not discard masks on surfaces that could be sources of infection.
Key Mask-Wearing Timeframes
To properly wear a face mask, wash your hands before putting your mask on. Ensure that the mask covers the mouth, nose, and chin. Disposable masks are worn once and not for more than two days in a row if you have to extend usage. These masks were made to be worn in half-hour increments. It is recommended to change masks within this time to avoid breathing in any bacterial contamination of what has landed on the mask during usage. After you toss out a mask, wash your hands again before applying a new one. Ideally, any time that you touch your mask, you should wash your hands to avoid coming in contact with contaminants. In cases where reuse is needed, place the face mask in a zip lock bag laced with a desiccated gel to keep the mask dry. So long as the mask is not torn, it is wearable for three more days. If the mask was worn by a person infected, it should not be reused at all.
All masks become more and more ineffective as moisture builds upon the surface. The half an hour window is a recommended timeframe for very good reason; this prevents the likelihood of added moisture to the mask. There is a greater chance that alternatives to n95 masks will catch larger particles in the air than smaller ones, so for the most protection, follow the timeframe guidelines and dispose of your masks properly to avoid contamination and risk of infection.
Featured Image by fernando zhiminaicela from Pixabay