Workers exposed to safety hazards have been wearing face masks for a long time. Members of the public, however, have just recently discovered the importance of face masks. If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, you probably would not wear a face mask too.
There are several kinds of face masks on the market. Cloth masks are recommended for regular citizens, while surgical masks and N95 masks are for healthcare workers and other medical responders.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise the public to use cloth masks, some people still prefer surgical masks and N95 masks for daily use.
What is a surgical mask?
A surgical mask is a type of disposable face mask that has a loose fit and serves as a physical barrier between the wearer’s nose and mouth and contaminants in the environment. It should not be shared or reused.
Surgical masks are offered in different thicknesses with different fluid resistance properties. These characteristics affect the breathability and efficiency of the mask.
When worn correctly, a surgical mask helps trap large droplets, sprays, and splashes of body fluids that may carry viruses and bacteria. It prevents these harmful pathogens from getting into your nose and mouth. Furthermore, a surgical mask blocks your own respiratory secretions and saliva from potentially infecting those near you.
What is an N95 mask?
An N95 mask is a type of personal protective equipment (PPE) worn over the user’s nose and mouth to reduce the risk of breathing in vapors, gases, and airborne particles that may contain infectious agents. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) certifies N95 masks including those used in healthcare settings.
An N95 mask removes airborne particles that are breathed through it. It filters out at least 95 percent of small particles down to 0.3 microns in size. An N95 mask filters out all kinds of particles, including bacteria and viruses.
When should you wear a mask?
You don’t need to wear a face mask at home and when around members of your household. But if you need to leave your house to go grocery shopping or for any other reason, you have to use a face mask.
Each time you go outside there is a chance you’ll be exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 and bring the virus back home. The risk increases significantly when you are in close contact with other people, spend long periods of time with others, go to crowded places, and stay in poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
You don’t necessarily have to use a surgical mask or N95 mask; a cloth mask will do. However, if you choose to use a surgical mask or N95 mask, make sure to handle it properly. Wear your face mask correctly and discard it appropriately.
Where to keep your surgical mask and N95 mask at home
If you live in a state where residents are required to use a face mask when leaving their homes or you simply want to be protected from the virus, it pays to know how to store your surgical mask and N95 mask at home. By now you may already have a growing stash of surgical and N95 masks and storing them has become a challenge. Here are tips on storing your surgical masks and N95 masks at home.
- If you still go outside for work, keep your surgical or N95 mask near your work wardrobe. Storing your face masks in drawer dividers next to other daily essentials makes it easier to remember to take one before leaving the house.
- You can also keep your surgical mask or N95 mask in a cabinet near the front door so you always remember to bring one before heading out.
- Although it is best not to accept guests at this time, if you ever have guests at home, you should have a shelf with a box of surgical masks ready for them. You may put your family’s surgical masks or N95 masks in a different drawer or basket.
Reusing surgical masks and N95 masks
A surgical mask and an N95 mask should never be reused. However, due to the pandemic, hospitals make use of decontamination equipment to disinfect N95 masks and allow staff to reuse these respirators.
Decontaminating N95 masks should not be done at home. Your surgical mask or N95 mask should ideally go straight to the bin after use. However, if you plan to reuse your surgical or N95 mask, be sure to store them properly.
To remove a surgical or N95 mask, pull the ear straps or ties without touching the mask itself. Put your surgical mask or N95 mask in a brown paper bag. Paper bags are breathable and have good ventilation, preventing the build-up of moisture. Do not touch the edges of the bag when putting the mask inside.
Leave your surgical mask or N95 mask in a paper bag for seven days. Use a different face mask for every day of the week. By the time you go back to your first face mask, the virus would no longer be viable.
Do not forget to wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling your surgical mask or N95 mask.
Face masks are essential devices during a pandemic. Whether you are required by local authorities to wear a face mask or not, it is always best to have one on. Finally, wash your hands frequently and practice social distancing as using face masks alone is not enough to stop the spread of COVID-19.