Wearing a face mask is a very important part of COVID-19 precautions. Wearing a face mask properly, cleaning, safely storing, and disposing of it is essential for it to be as effective as possible. In a previous article, we explained how to safely wear a face mask, in this article, we will provide an overview of the different types of face masks and how long can you use them during COVID-19.
1. Surgical Mask
Surgical masks, also known as medical masks, are recommended as part of droplet precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19. They are also an expansion of personal protective equipment (PPE). If you wear a surgical mask correctly, it can help you from contracting COVID-19.
How Long can You Wear a Surgical Mask?
Although a specific duration for surgical masks cannot be defined, different studies have revealed that the extended duration could be 4 to 8 hours. According to the WHO and Government of France report of April 2020, a surgical mask may not be useful after 4 and 6 hours.
Can Your Reuse a Surgical Mask?
Surgical masks are disposable masks and are not recommended for more than one-time use. If the mask is soiled, damaged, or breathing becomes difficult, it must be immediately removed and discarded.
2. N95 Respirators
N95 Respirators are also known as professional-grade medical masks which are designed very carefully and closely to fit the face and tightly seal the air outside and surface. Due to its fit design, it is very effective in the filtration of air particles.
How Long can You use an N95 Mask?
According to WHO guidelines, the N95 mask could be used without removal for up to 6 hours when caring for a cohort of patients with COVID-19.
Can You Reuse an N95 Mask?
While an N95 Mask can be reused after decontamination, its effectiveness decreases each time it is reused. Below are instructions for reusing and decontaminating an N95 mask:
When not using an N95 mask, always cover it in a plastic bag. In order to reuse an N95 mask, it must be placed in a dry place for 3 to 4 days to dry out. It is recommended to have at least four masks and use them on alternative days while keeping the used mask in a dry atmosphere to let it dry. Alternative ways for reprocessing are below:
- Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide
- Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation
- Dry or moist heat
- Use of Methylene blue dye + dry heat
For more details regarding the reuse of N95 masks, see the video below.
3. Cloth Mask / Fabric Mask
A cloth face mask is not a part of PPE but can be used for the prevention of COVID-19. The CDC recommends community use of multi-layer cloth masks for the prevention of COVID-19. A disposable mask can also be worn underneath a cloth mask by people who might find it difficult to use a single mask due to their beards.
Can You Reuse a Cloth / Fabric Mask?
Multi-layer cloth masks block both exhaled respiratory particles and microorganisms in these particles from release into the environment. However, the protective effect of cloth masks is still being studied, including the type of fabric that might be most effective in blocking the transmission of respiratory diseases. The mask can be reused after cleaning it properly (see instructions in section below).
You can see the following video by WHO to learn more about the type of cloth mask most suitable for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The following video by WHO explains the difference between surgical and fabric masks and when to use them.
How Does Someone Safely Clean a Cloth Mask?
A cloth mask can be washed in a washing machine with any detergent. After placing the mask in the washing machine, hands should be cleaned—dry masks on high heat.
How to Safely Remove a Face Mask to Avoid COVID-19 Infection?
Remove the mask chin upward; do not touch from the front when taking off the mask. To avoid exposure to the droplet, fold the mask half inwards, then fold it to another half until you roll it. Cover the mask in a plastic bag or tissue and put it in the trash. Wash your hands properly before putting on a new mask.
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