Accountable Healthcare - How often should I wash my cloth mask? What about surgical, N95 masks?
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July 13, 2020

How often should I wash my cloth mask? What about surgical, N95 masks?

Face masks, like any article of clothing, get dirty with wear. They can also carry the coronavirus if an infected person comes in contact with you.

So how often should you wash them?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that cloth masks worn during the pandemic "should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use,” a recommendation that’s less than precise.

A study published as a research letter in April in Lancet The Microbe found that SARS-CoV-2 was detectable on the inner layer of a mask for up to four days and the outer layer up to seven days.

Since then, the CDC has downplayed fomite transmission “as not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” That doesn’t mean it can’t happen though.

“My recommendation would be to wash your mask every day,” Dr. Cassandra Pierre, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center, told Reviewed. “If you’re using it and going out to run errands, you run the risk of having droplets collect on the surface of the mask.”

If someone were to cough or sneeze on you, you should clean the mask as soon as possible, Pierre says. Be sure to wash your hands before and after handling a used mask. In general, treat your mask like a biohazard — don’t leave it lying around the house where others might touch it.

Cloth masks can be safely washed in a washer and either air-dried or, if possible, tumbled dry in a hot dryer.

If no washer is available or if it’s not time to run a load of laundry, washing by hand with soap and water will do the job nicely.

The CDC recommends the public wear only cloth masks. Due to ongoing shortages of personal protective equipment, surgical masks and N95 respirator masks should be reserved for health care workers and first responders.

But if you already have a surgical mask, can you reuse it?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, surgical masks are not intended to be used more than once. Solid advice for normal times, but these are not normal times.

With PPE in limited supply, nurses at the Biocontainment Unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine and their coworkers were placing surgical masks in paper bags or other clean, ventilated receptacles that allow them to air out, unit nurse educator Jade Flinn told Today in May. Flinn suggested storing a mask for a few days before using it again.

If the surgical mask is damaged or soiled, it should be discarded.

Like surgical masks, N95 masks are designed for single use. But they also can be reused after isolating them in a breathable location such as inside a paper bag, Kirsten Koehler, an associate professor of environmental health and engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told USA Today. Koehler said the bag should be kept at room temperature for seven days.

In medical settings, the CDC says respirators like N95 masks should be stored for more than 72 hours before being reused.

A fabric mask can also be decontaminated by leaving it in a paper bag. The recommended duration is two days.

Surgical and N95 masks should neither be washed nor sprayed with bleach or a disinfectant like Lysol. To do so would weaken the mask structurally and make it less effective.

In addition, breathing in disinfectant or bleach could be harmful to the wearer.

Original article at WPBF News