Should you re-use or wash your face masks?

It is important to note that the CDC is not recommending the usage of medical-grade masks and N-95 respirators.

Mask Lady
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Re-use or wash the face masks?

With the surge of asymptomatic cases of the novel coronavirus in China, there is a change in the guidelines of the usage of masks. The US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has now suggested people to use non-medical masks and cloth face coverings when stepping out in public settings.

This will help in containing the spread of novel coronavirus through asymptomatic carriers. These symptom-free coronavirus carriers are proving to be a huge challenge in the detection and curbing of the novel coronavirus.

While the compliance of this guideline is voluntary, the CDC recommends those who do not have any symptoms of the virus or do not feel sick, should wear a cloth covering as well while going out. One can also use scarves or bandanas when they go in a public setting to get groceries or essential medical supplies.

It is important to note that the CDC is not recommending the usage of medical-grade masks and N-95 respirators. These masks are critical supplies and they must be reserved for medical emergency teams and medical workers including doctors, nurses and the hospital support staff. Remember, the cloth face coverings are not the surgical or N-95 respirators, these masks can be easily made from the comfort of the home.

However, while using a face covering is a crucial step in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, it is equally important to understand the lifespan of these masks and whether or not they can be reused.

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Can you re-use different kinds of masks and respirators? We tell you

N-95 respirator
While generally the N-95 respirators should be changed in-between usage and discarded when it becomes moist, the supplies of medical masks and respirators are quite limited during the spread of an infectious respiratory disease. Hence, The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has laid out specifical guidelines for the health care workers on the re-use and extended usage of an N-95 respirator.

Reusing of N-95 respirator
As per the CDC, the reuse of the N-95 respirator refers to the usage of the same respirator for multiple encounters with the patients and removing it after each encounter.
1. Store the respirator in between usage in a clean storage area or in a breathable container such as a paper bag.
2. The respirators should be kept separate from each other so that they do not touch and the user of the respirator should be clearly identified.
3. Check for the guidelines provided by the manufacturer for the safe reuse of the respirator (if available)
4. Several studies and researches suggest no more than five uses of the same device if no guidelines are provided by the manufacturer.
5. Discard the respirator immediately if it becomes contaminated, obviously damaged or you are not able to breathe through it properly.
6. Do not touch the inside of the respirator as it will contaminate it, making it unfit for usage.

Extended usage of N-95 respirator
1. For extended usage, the respirator must maintain its shape and should function properly.
2. One must minimize unnecessary contact with the respirator’s surface.
3. Extended use of the respirator should be preferred over re-use to avoid unnecessary touching of the same.
4. Several studies indicate that N-95 respirators can be used for 8 hours continuously.
5. Discard contaminated and damaged respiratory masks immediately.

Surgical masks
It is important to note that a surgical mask or an N-95 respirator should be reused only by the same person. These masks should not be shared as it may lead to cross-contamination. Remember, these guidelines are for healthcare settings only. For general usage (like stepping out of the house to get groceries or essential supplies during the lockdown), it is strongly recommended to use cloth maks made at home.

The World Health Organization strongly advises against the re-use of single-use masks and under normal circumstances, surgical masks should be disposed of after a single usage. However, given the shortage of surgical masks and N-95 respiratory masks globally, the guidelines for reuse and extended usage of surgical masks remain the same as N-95 respirators.

1. Discard the mask if it becomes moist, contaminated or visibly damaged.
2. Store the mask in a clean, dry and breathable container in between usage like a paper bag.
3. Do not touch the inside of the mask at all costs as it will lead to contamination of the mask.
4. Wash or disinfect your hands properly before and after donning the mask for re-use.

Remember, there is no way to predict the number of safe uses of any particular mask.

Homemade cloth mask
Simple cloth coverings and masks can be reused when routinely washed in between the usage. According to the CDC, a washing machine can help in washing the cloth mask properly. When you take off your mask, remember to store it in a cool, dry place where it can dry out the moisture it has collected. Also, the mask should be completely dry after washing before donning.