Q&A of the Day – Is mask maintenance more important than the type?

Q&A of the Day – Is mask maintenance more important than the type?

Each day I’ll feature a listener question that’s been submitted by one of these methods. 

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com

Twitter: @brianmuddradio

Facebook: Brian Mudd https://www.facebook.com/brian.mudd1

Today’s entry: Originally, we were told masks don’t really work...which we know wasn’t true. Then we were told they needed to be a certain kind or they weren’t that effective. Recently we’ve been told any kind is better than not having them. For all of the misinformation thus far, has anyone considered the importance of cleaning them or not reusing disposable ones? It would seem to me cleaning or not reusing masks that aren’t meant to be would be more important than the material it’s made from.

Bottom Line: Based on what we know, your inference is mostly on point. There’s been quite the evolution of mask information since the WHO’s assertion that masks aren’t really effective in combating COVID-19 in March. In fact, it’s come full circle. The CDC has sewing instructions for cloth masks on its website. Here’s the CDC official guidance for all masks.

They should...

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • allow for breathing without restriction

And specifically, for cloth masks...

  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

Picking up on that final recommendation for cloth masks takes us back to your question. It is the case that reusing disposable masks or not cleaning reusable masks is paramount to anything else? The latest research strongly suggests yes. 

We’ve heard about the importance of having plentiful and clean PPE for frontline workers but it's just as important for the rest of us based on data.In a story I put together last week, I was able to determine that frontline worker shave been only 1% more likely to contract the coronavirus than those staying home. That speaks to the effectiveness and importance of clean PPE. Dr. Stephen Morse, from Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, told CNBC that a leading problem with masks is what happens when we take them off. If the exterior of the mask is contaminated and we touch it without immediately washing our hands, or if we place it on a surface don’t immediately clean, we’re at risk. This is likely a leading reason for why 84% of newly diagnosed cases have come from non-essential workers. Based on CDC guidance here’s an estimate on how long the virus can live on the surfaces of masks based on material. 

  • Cardboard or fabric – 24 hours
  • Plastic – 3 days
  • Aluminum - 8 hours

Here’s your first takeaway on masks. Having plastic components as part of your mask or shield carries greater risk if you don’t properly clean it right away after use. The next takeaway...setting your mask on a countertop could create an issue for up to three days based on the surface. In a household all it takes is one person being a little careless with a mask that’s been exposed and you could have a problem for everyone in it. Based on all available data, a breathable fabric mask that’s washable is probably the best way to go. And all of us should probably have multiples so they can be regularly washed without being reused prior to washing. The answer to your question is that the proper handling and cleaning of masks is most important, though what they’re made of can carry varying levels of risk based on how long the coronavirus can live on different surfaces. 

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