Proper Care and Use of Face Coverings

Updated: Jul 13

Asking everyone to wear cloth masks can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus by people who have COVID-19 but don’t realize it. And countries that required face masks, testing, isolation and social distancing early in the pandemic seem to have had some success slowing the spread of the virus. Cloth masks are cheap and simple to make.

Remember, wearing a face mask won’t protect you from contracting COVID-19. However, it can help prevent you from transmitting the virus to others.

Face masks offer protection against respiratory infections for health care workers and the general public and reduce community transmission, making masks one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease. Reports point out that due to the critical role face masks have in limiting the spread of the coronavirus disease and saving us from catching the infection, there is a global shortage of masks - stressing the need to promote a conscious use of these masks. Individuals in good health do not have to wear a mask if they are staying at home. Also, avoid touching the masks while using it, if you do, clean your hands with soap and water.

Most face masks are disposable and are for one-time use only, and should be disposed of when the inner lining gets moist. If you want to reuse the mask, it should be kept dry. Cloth masks: These can be reused if it is properly washed, disinfected and dried. Surgical masks: If it is dry and the layers are in place, keep it in a zip lock pouch with a desiccated (silica) gel because the gel will absorb the moisture and keep the mask dry. If the mask is intact and not torn, it can be reused for 3 days. If worn by an infected person, it should never be reused or shared. N95 respirator: When reusing the N95 respirator, leave a used mask in the dry atmosphere for 3-4 days to dry it out. As the polypropylene in N95 is hydrophobic and contains zero moisture, the coronavirus which needs a host to survive will not able to survive, if the respirator is dry for 3-4 hours. As pointed out from the experts at Narayana Health, “Best is to use four N95 masks and number them 1-4. On day 1 use mask 1, then let it dry for 3-4 days. On day 2 use mask 2 and then let it dry for 3-4 days. Same for Day 3 and Day 4. Another method is to sterilize the N95 mask by hanging it in the oven (without contacting metal) at 70 degrees C for 30 min. Or use a wooden clip to hang the respirator in the kitchen oven. Follow the guidelines provided by the manufacturer or use it maximum up to 5 times”. Discard N95 respirators following use during aerosol-generating procedures, masks contaminated with blood, respiratory or nasal secretions, or other bodily fluids from patients and close contact with any patient co-infected with an infectious disease requiring contact precautions.

How To Dispose Of A Used Mask? It is to be noted that masks should be treated as medical waste, hence refrain from casually throwing it away with other waste. Do not throw the used masks in workplaces, homes, lifts, roads and open dust bins as it can pose as a potential health hazard. Used masks have respiratory secretions on them and can be dispersed and transmitted through the air. Cloth masks: These masks should be washed properly and frequently and left to air dry and once dried, can be re-used. Again, remember that cloth masks are used only for normal things. Surgical masks: While removing the surgical masks after use, make sure you remove it from the strings and be careful not to touch the front portion. After taking it off, fold it inwards in a way that the droplets from mouth and nose are not exposed. Fold the mask into a half, until it looks like a roll. Next, wrap the used mask in a polythene bag or a tissue paper and discard it in a separate waste bag. So, fold-wrap-dispose. N95 respirator: Hold the edge of the straps attached to take off the mask and do not touch the inside part of the respirator. Gently remove the mask and place the mask in a plastic bag, paper bag or a zip-lock bag between uses. Secure the bag tightly and place it into garbage can or biomedical waste disposal unit. After disposal, wash your hands thoroughly.

Also the mask needs to always cover your nose and mouth at all times. Frequently pulling it down so it stays around your throat or wearing it on your forehead in between defeats the whole purpose. And, always wash your hands before and after taking off the mask and never discard it casually. Also, masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

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