Can surgical masks be reused?

In the United States and all over the world, a shortage of N95 masks and N95 respirators has led healthcare workers towards medical face mask alternatives already known to them.

The case of disposable face masks

Surgical masks have long been in use in the USA. Unlike reusable face masks, a disposable face mask is designed for single-use only. Examples are 3M N95 masks like 3M 8511, 1860, 3M 8210, and even kn95 masks.

Such types of masks often have a filter with antiviral properties to block hazardous airborne particles as well as dust and smoke. With the scarcity of this prime commodity during the pandemic, kids and the general public are generally advised not to wear N95 respirators.

With that in mind, face shields and other reusable face masks may be used. Still, N95 respirators would be the best for virus protection where exposure to symptomatic and asymptomatic patients is high.

Now, surgical masks can be found for sale online. You can buy in bulk or wholesale. The surgical mask has many uses. It may serve as a barrier against the flu causing virus, offering protection to the wearer. The surgical mask does come in a one size fits all, contrary to N95 respirators which are sized to fit the wearer.

What is a surgical mask?

The surgical mask is a disposable PPE designed to cover the nose and mouth areas. The surgical mask was originally created for use in medical procedures. The purpose of the surgical mask is for the prevention of the spreading of infections between healthcare professionals and their patients.

The surgical mask is often used in health facilities not limited to hospitals. Those working in residential care facilities, home health care, emergency medical services, emergency departments, and out-patient facilities may also use a surgical mask.

Is a surgical mask safe for reuse?

Should you decide to use a surgical mask, which is a single-use disposable face mask, know that there are limitations as to its efficiency.

While generally not recommended for re-use, during situations of critical shortage, surgical mask reuse as well as other types of disposable face masks may be warranted. Reuse or extended use of surgical masks may be done only if there are no safer alternatives in place. Yet, there are hygienic practices that must be carried out for the safe reuse or extended use of a surgical mask.

How to reuse a surgical mask safely?

Disposable masks like the surgical mask and N95 mask may safely be re-worn in cases of critical shortage. The first rule of thumb is to refrain from touching the surgical mask to avoid transferring contaminants from your hands to your surgical mask after you touch a possibly contaminated surface.

Previous to handling your surgical mask, it is essential to wash your hands with soap and water. Then, follow up with alcohol to be certain your hands are sanitized.

Furthermore, when handling the surgical mask, refrain from touching the surface of the surgical mask itself. Instead, remove from the ear straps. You would also need to avoid touching virus particles that are on the front side of the surgical mask. So, be extra careful to avoid that part of the surgical mask.

Next, when coming from work such as at a hospital, the storage of the surgical mask for reuse is also up for question. Brown paper bags or a clean Ziploc bag may be used for the storage of a surgical mask. Leaving the surgical mask in a clean, contained environment for several days (at least a day or two) is advisable before the reuse of such a surgical mask.

Checking the surgical mask before reuse

One main issue is the dirty, soiled, or torn surgical mask, could it or should it be reused? The safe answer is no. While there are special machines and types of gases in sanitization centers and hospitals that can safely bring new life to such a surgical mask, on your own, refrain from handling such a surgical mask for reuse.

The reuse of a surgical mask that is visibly contaminated or damaged would cause a great risk to the wearer. With that in mind, such a surgical mask should be disposed of carefully and immediately.

Furthermore, while in the process of waiting out for the decontamination of a used surgical mask for reuse, consider having a week’s supply, or at least 3 to 5 surgical mask supply in hand. Even where limited surgical mask supplies are available, giving out at least three surgical masks per individual will ensure safe reuse of every surgical mask in stock.

The Correct Procedure for handling a surgical mask with the intent to reuse

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water. Then, don’t forget to use alcohol or hand sanitizer.
  2. Remove the surgical mask by holding the ear loops, carefully avoiding the front of the surgical mask.
  3. Untie the lower tie of the surgical mask before you untie the upper ties. Make sure that the ties do not touch the clean part or interior part of the surgical mask.
  4. Inspect the surgical mask. If it is soiled, saturated, or torn, the surgical mask should be discarded.
  5. If not visibly contaminated, the surgical mask should be folded in a way that the outer surface is inward and against the surgical mask.
  6. Store the surgical mask in a clean sealable paper bag, Ziploc bag, or breathable container.

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