As California and other states begin loosening stay-at-home orders and reopening businesses, it’s likely that everyone will be encouraged to wear a mask in public for months to come.
But to be effective in slowing the speed of COVID-19 infection, a mask must be used correctly
“Properly using a mask is just as important as actually wearing one,” says infectious disease specialist Rekha Murthy, MD, vice president of Medical Affairs and associate chief medical officer at Cedars-Sinai. “And possibly the most important thing to remember is that you should not rely solely on masks. Masks should be used in combination with other preventive measures, like washing your hands and practicing physical distancing.”
Below, Murthy and Carole Guinane, RN, MBA, CPHQ, executive director of ambulatory surgery center operations at Cedars-Sinai, share their tips for proper mask use and care.
Best Practices for Putting On and Taking Off a Mask
Start by washing your hands with soap and water or by cleaning them with alcohol-based sanitizer. Before you put on a mask, Guinane says you should start with the basics.
When placing the mask on your face, ensure both the mouth and nose are covered, with no gap between your face and the mask.
“Once the mask is on, avoid touching your face at all,” says Murthy. “If you have to touch your mask for any reason, immediately clean your hands with sanitizer or soap and water before and after doing so.”
When it’s time to take your mask off, remove it from behind, without touching the front of the mask. Discard it immediately in a closed bin and then promptly clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
How to Safely Reuse a Mask
Every different type of mask and every mask manufacturer seems to have different rules. However, as a general best practice, Guinane says to replace masks with new ones as soon as they become damp. She also recommends never reusing a single-use mask.
“For cloth masks, however, most can be reused,” says Guinane. “But they should be cleaned in a washer and dryer as soon as they become damp.”
And, when selecting masks, Murthy stresses the importance of reserving surgical masks and N95 respirators for healthcare workers.
“These types of personal protective equipment are in short supply and shouldn’t be used by members of the community,” says Murthy.
Murthy and Guinane both urge Angelenos to check out the World Health Organization (WHO) website, which provides the most current, up-to-date information on mask usage.