Should we use a face mask after placing it down on a surface?

A face mask is a type of face covering that protects the user by preventing them from inhaling any harmful airborne particulates. There are three types of face masks, namely—the N95 masks, surgical masks, and the cloth mask. While surgical masks and N95s are considered a part of PPE (personal protective equipment), cloth masks are recommended for domestic use. These masks also vary in terms of performances and their purpose is although the same, they are practically utilized in different ways.

History of face masks

Since N95s and surgical masks qualify as PPE components they are widely used by the people involved in the medical sector. For the longest time, surgical masks ruled the medical sector since these masks were invented at a time when no reasonable face covering was available for the medical workers besides heavy face shields and cloth masks. Heavy face shields were although much more protective than cloth masks were difficult to be donned for extensive hours.

As a result, cloth masks were invented but these masks were not fit for medical workers as these masks could only provide scarce protection against the bacteria, germs, and contaminants present during medical procedures. Subsequently, surgical masks came into being and the usage of cloth masks in medical settings became obsolete. N95 respirators were originally invented to protect the people associated with construction jobs. However, later on, a variant of the N95 was invented for medical workers which are known as the ‘surgical respirator’

Which mask offers better production?

Efficiency wise, N95 masks are indubitably a better performer than the surgical mask. The key reason being that the mask has a sealed fit that doesn’t allow contaminants to seep inside the mask and the mask’s claim of filtering out 95% of all sorts of airborne particulates. Whereas a surgical mask can only filter out bacterial fluids and droplets received either as splashes or sprays. Surgical masks do not offer a sealed fit either that allows plenty of space for leakage which also deters the performance of this mask from being top-notch. In line with this, the mask can only filter out the liquid and does not offer protection against airborne particulates.

Face masks and the COVID-19 pandemic

The importance of face masks increased by a hundred times due to the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. A mere face covering that was beforehand not regarded with much value by the commoners is now seminal for every individual. When the news of the outbreak became public, masks like the N95 and surgical masks started flying off shelves. Since the N95s are regarded as the most reliable face masks and also effective in preventing COVID-19, their stature during the pandemic was at an all-time high.

Due to the elevated demand, the prices also increased and face masks became a valuable commodity. The elevated demand also resulted in a shortage of this product. The shortage was so massive that buying an N95 and surgical mask was not the simple task it used to be before. The availability of the product was an issue itself but there was also the problem of price gouging which meant that even if one was lucky enough to get their hands on this product, they would have to pay an unreasonably high amount in return.

The discipline of disposing of a face mask

Since face masks are meant to protect from contaminants, the mask itself must remain free from any sort of germs or contaminants. This means that when a mask is not being donned, the mask should be kept in a place that will ensure that the mask does not come in contact with any sort of bacteria. The ideal way or storing a face mask that will also protect them from the aforementioned hazards is to store it in a clear zip-lock bag or paper bag. They can also be stored in clean containers, preferably after disinfecting them with the help of a washcloth.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that if a mask is not stored in a suitable condition, it will not remain appropriate for usage and should be disposed of. Also, if a user dons a mask that is contaminated, the bacteria will be transported to the user’s face which will be counterproductive since the entire purpose of a mask is to keep the user protected from such things. Now to address the main question, should a mask be disposed of if one left it on a surface?

The answer to this depends on whether the surface was contaminated. Most surfaces are not the cleanest, except if it was recently cleaned and sanitized, which is not always the case. To further conclude, if the mask appears to be dirty or if the surface showcases signs of being contaminated with germs or any sort of bacteria, the mask should be disposed of without any thought. However, if the surface seems clean and the mask also looks alright then a user may wear the mask.

Conclusion

Face masks are an important part of the new normal. This accessory is now a crucial requirement for everyone. Though the majority of the people understand the importance of donning a face mask, they do not understand the etiquette of wearing one. There are certain guidelines that individuals must follow and certain precautions as well. The first and foremost being that the mask is kept clean from any contamination.

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