Masks are an important method of preventing transmission of COVID-19, according to a Nanaimo infectious disease physician.
“It’s not something that is standalone effective,” said Dr. David Forrest, an infectious disease and critical care physician at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. “[But] this is an incredibly important and effective intervention that will help us avoid lockdown.”
The province made masks mandatory in indoor, public spaces in B.C. as part of province-wide restrictions aimed at curbing the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
Along with wearing a mask, comes mask hygiene.
How to put a mask on
Lindsay Dixon, a Victoria pharmacist, said the first step is to wash or sanitize your hands.
“Grab the mask by the ear loops, put it over your nose, over your mouth,” Dixon explained.
Extend the mask so it sits comfortably under your chin and press the middle in so it sits tight against your nose.
Then wash or sanitize your hands again.
“You should not touch your face or your mask at any time that you’re using it, try not to adjust the mask even if it’s bothering you,” said Dixon. “Because once you put the mask on, it’s no longer clean and you don’t know what particles are on there.”
To take it off, do the same thing but in reverse.
Sanitize your hands, remove the mask using the ear loop and drop it into the garbage. Then sanitize or wash your hands again.
Can you reuse masks?
Dr. David Forrest said the answer is yes, as long as you practice hygiene.
“Your mask will be contaminated now with others’ droplets,” he explained. “So as long as you’re handling the mask in a way that’s going to minimize your risk and, as I say, optimally, doing hand hygiene before and after handling the mask, yes it can be reused.”
Wearing a mask to protect others from your own secretions, Forrest added, even if it’s dirty or a cloth mask, is better than not wearing a mask at all.
If you are planning on reusing it, you want to make sure it is stored in a clean place.
“I always suggest storing it with the outside of the mask up in a place that’s clean,” Forrest said, holding up a tray. “I’m using a little Savaday tray to put it in so I can reuse it if I need to.”
If it’s visibly dirty, however, you’re better off throwing it out or washing it.
How often should you throw out or wash a mask?
It all depends on how often you wear the mask.
Generally speaking, Forrest said, it should be once every day or two.
Cloth masks can be washed by hand or in the laundry, depending on the material.
“They need to be washed in a hot cycle with some kind of detergent,” said Dixon, adding that some masks will lose their shape if put in a machine.
If you bought a handmade mask, she said, it’s best to check in with the person who made the mask and see what they recommend.
Dixon added masks should not be shared and used by more than one person.