How to safely reuse a disposable mask

Face masks have become an important (and in some places, even mandatory) part of our look since the CDC recommended they be used whenever we go out in public. And while the CDC has also recommended that we use cotton face masks, some of us may have been lucky enough to get hold of single-use masks, or surgical masks, which may both protect us from the coronavirus, and protect others from us if we’re asymptomatic (via Mayo Clinic). But is it possible to reuse disposable masks, especially because they are in short supply?

The answer is yes, but they need to be handled and cared for in a very specific way. When you take off your mask, touch as little of its outside surface as possible, because if you’ve come in contact with the coronavirus (or any other virus for that matter), most of those infectious particles will be sitting in front. Once you’ve removed your mask, place that into a clean container with good ventilation, which can help your mask air out properly. Dr. Lucian Davis, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, and Jade Flinn, MSN, the nurse educator for the Biocontainment Unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine both told Today that brown paper lunch sacks are ideal because of the way they are structured — you can just drop a mask in and allow good ventilation. If you want to use a plastic container like a Ziploc bag or Tupperware to do the job, make sure you don’t come in contact with its edges. Flinn also warns that people not attempt to disinfect the masks with cleaners, as you’re ultimately breathing those chemicals in.

Masks which have been reused may not be as effective

Once the mask is tucked away in a container, the best thing to do is leave it alone.”The best option would be to leave it stored in a container in the contaminated area for 72 hours. You don’t want it to be air-tight as air circulation helps with drying and may help inactivate the virus,” UT infectious diseases expert Michael Chang told Allure. And if you’re ready to throw your disposable mask away, fold it in half or roll it up in a tissue to keep anything that’s on it from getting loose. It’s also best to throw the mask into a bin with a lid, because the coronavirus can live on surfaces for up to three days. Its also a no-no to try to clean your mask in your microwave. 

Reusing masks carries both a condition and a risk. According to Focus Taiwan, one urologist in Taiwan, where no cases involving local transmission have been reported since mid-April, says disposable face masks can be reused by the same wearer as long as the mask hasn’t gotten damp or wet, and that it hasn’t been worn for more than 4-6 hours at a high-risk location (via Focus Taiwan). It’s important to note, however, that while some experts say there is a safe way to reuse disposable masks, the WHO recommends not reusing them. Masks may not work as well if they have been recycled, so it is necessary to keep more than a few handy and on rotation to make sure you’re well protected against the virus (via Insider).

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