During these times we have questions about the use of medical masks and about the pandemic we are all facing. Understanding how to protect ourselves and others is vital. Here we will address a few topics including whether medical masks are reusable.

History of COVID-19

As we were going about our daily lives, we were hit with the news that there was a new virus spreading. At first, many of us had no idea what this virus was about, and the news just kept coming. We had no idea just how dangerous it could be nor how it would affect our daily lives.

In December of 2019, an outbreak of COVID-19 was detected on the mainland of China. Since this time, every part of the globe has been affected by this disease. As of this writing, the disease is still spreading at a rapid rate, and governments around the world are doing everything in their power to get it to slow down.

A new virus is causing this outbreak of illness. This virus is identified as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The World Health Organization officially named the virus Coronavirus Disease or COVID-19 on February 12, 2020.

Coronaviruses belong to a family of viruses that are capable of mild to moderate respiratory illnesses that include Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and the common cold.

COVID-19 began in a wet market in Wuhan, China. What is a wet market? A wet market is a marketplace where vendors sell live animals such as rabbits, dogs, cats, bats, and fish. The name “wet market” comes from the fact that the live animals are slaughtered and there is ice melting that is used to preserve the food. The floors in these wet markets are constantly being washed down and remain wet while the market is open. The Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan and those who caught the virus seems to be the common denominator. Scientists believe that the new virus was mutated from a strain of coronavirus that is common in animals and was able to infect humans in this marketplace.

When a person becomes infected and sneezes or coughs the new virus is transmitted through the droplets expelled. Contact routes that consist of the eyes, mouth, and nose are the port of entry. The expelled droplets can also be inhaled into the lungs of individuals.

The virus can also live on surfaces. Scientists have performed studies and COVID-19 is able to live on cardboard for 24 hours. Stainless steel and some plastics can harbor the virus for up to three days.

Why Social Distance?

The only way we are going to slow the infection rate of COVID-19 is by following recommendations by researchers and scientists. Social distancing is one of the leading recommendations. Social distancing includes remaining at least six feet away from other people that you do not live with. This includes when you are out walking, in stores, and in places like restaurants or bars. Many cities around the world have used lockdowns to ensure that social distancing is being followed. Many people that would travel to and from their workplaces daily are now working from home.

In the United States, the president advised citizens at the end of February 2020 to stay home and away from other individuals. By the end of March 2020 out of the 50 states, 32 had gone into lockdown. As New York COVID-19 cases began to climb this state accounted for half of the deaths nationwide. Cases in the United States are still climbing at the time of this writing.

Symptoms of COVID—19

Many questions arrive over what the symptoms of COVID-19 are and when to seek testing and medical help. Individuals should call their medical doctors if they are experiencing shortness of breath, fever, or cough. Contacting your medical physician is warranted if you have been around someone who has been infected with COVID-19.

If you suspect that you may have the virus self-quarantine is in order. The US government states that all citizens should operate as though they may have already encountered the virus.

The incubation period of the coronavirus can be anywhere from 1-14 days with most of the symptoms presenting themselves around the 9th day. What does the incubation period mean? The incubation period is defined as the time from a person was exposed to the virus and when the symptoms begin to appear.  The incubation period is a critical time because many people do not know they are spreading the virus to others.

If a person thinks they have been exposed to COVID-19 there is a high risk of spreading the virus to those who are high risk. People who are at high risk include:

Although people of any age can catch the virus, the elderly are more at risk. The risk of the symptoms becoming dangerous increases with age. Those who are age 85 and over face the highest risk with this virus. In the United States, approximately 80% of deaths from coronavirus have been in individuals age 65 and over. The risks are even higher for those who are elderly and already have underlying health issues.

It is a well-known fact that COVID-19 targets the lungs. If you already have lung problems and pre-existing issues you are at higher risk. If you have lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease you should use extreme caution when having to go out into public or having guests that do not live with you in your home.

High-risk individuals also include those with preexisting conditions that include diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

Coronavirus Live Update

Each day the numbers are jumping higher and we all need to do our share to help contain this virus. For a live update please visit the website: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Handwashing and COVID-19

Handwashing is still the No.1 way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Washing your hands to prevent illness is common sense and it works. However, washing your hands properly with soap and water is needed. When there is no water and soap available the next best solution is to use a hand sanitizer that has an alcohol base.

Handwashing requires five steps to be effective against COVID-19 and other illnesses.

Wet both your hands under clean water that is warm to hot. Apply a good amount of soap to all areas of your hands including your fingertips and under your nails. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds and make sure to get under jewelry. Rinse both hands under clear running water until all soap is rinsed off and water runs clear. Dry hands with a disposable towel. If no disposable towels are available, air dryers that are found in many public restrooms can be used.

Handwashing is so important, but many do not know when hands should be washed. Below is a list to start with.

After returning from being out in public.

Before eating food.

Before preparing food.

After shaking hands with other individuals.

After touching an animal or pet.

After blowing your nose.

After coughing or sneezing.

Following diaper changes.

Before and after touching public tables, computers, cash, and coins.

After caring for another person who is not feeling well.

After putting on and removing shoes.

More information on proper handwashing can be found here: https://familydoctor.org/handwashing-and-covid-19/

Face Masks and COVID-19 Safety

Can properly wearing face masks help to stop the spread of COVID-19? Yes, combined with preventative measures that have been recommended face masks can help slow this virus. One question that keeps being asked is why face masks were not recommended at the beginning of the outbreak. At the time, scientists were not sure how the virus was being spread before the symptoms started to appear. It was also not evident that those with COVID-19 could be infected and not show any symptoms at all. As the forms of transmission were discovered the experts did an extremely fast about-face on the recommendations of wearing masks.

The CDC recommends cloth masks for the public whenever they leave their homes or are going to come into contacts with others they do not live with. Cloth masks are advised and not the N95 masks or surgical masks that are worn by health professionals. With the outbreak of COVID-19 medical masks became scarce and are still needed for medical personnel and frontline workers.

Cloth masks can be made at home or purchased. The CDC recommends that cloth masks be made from cotton material and have multiple layers. Cloth masks can be made in a variety of sizes and designs and give the wearer protection from the virus and help to protect others.

Cloth masks must be used properly to offer the best protection.

Sanitize or wash your hands before taking your mask off or putting one on.

Put the mask over your nose and mouth.

Do not touch the mask or face while wearing it.

The mask is to fit snug and be securely tied behind your head or held in place with ear loops.

If you accidentally touch your face or mask while wearing it, sanitize your hands.

If the mask becomes soiled, switch to a clean one.

Remove the mask by untying or removing it from ear loops.

Wash hands after removing the mask.

Wash used masks regularly. Used masks can be washed with other laundry.


Surgical Masks

Surgical masks are also known as medical masks. Surgical masks are loose-fitting disposable masks that protect the wearer’s mouth and nose from sprays, splashes, and droplets that can contain the virus and germs. This mask also filters out larger particles that can be in the surrounding air. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve any particular type of surgical mask manufactured specifically to protect against COVID-19, but these masks should provide some protection when N95 masks are not available to be purchased. Disposable surgical masks are to only be used once and then disposed of.

N95 Respirators

The N95 mask is actually a type of respirator and offers more protection than the disposable medical mask. The N95 can filter out both small and large particles as the user inhales. The N95 mask is able to block and filter 95% of small particles that are in the air. Some of these respirators have valves built in that make them easier to breathe through. The air that is released when the wearer exhales is unfiltered.

All medical professionals must pass a fit test and be trained in the proper use of the N95 mask. N95 masks were originally manufactured to be disposable but now researchers are looking for ways to properly disinfect them so they can be reused.  

Can medical masks be reused?

Medical masks are manufactured to be disposable and should not be reused. If you find you are running low on disposable medical masks it is time to purchase more. Medical masks can be purchased from medical supply companies both online and locally. Many major retailers are now stocking medical masks on store shelves so that they are more accessible to those who need them. Stores all over the United States have instituted rules that you will have to wear a face mask to be able to shop. Luckily, many of these stores are supplying masks for those who have forgotten theirs or do not have anymore. Once the mask has been worn the wearer needs to remove the mask, discard it and wash the hands. If there is no soap and water available hand sanitizer can be used until the wearer is able to get to soap and water.

It is important that we all do our part to help protect our loved ones and those around us. Even though you may not have the symptoms of COVID-19 or feel ill you can still have the virus and spread it to others. Proper handwashing, practicing social distancing, and wearing masks are ways we can slow this virus.