Gabe Smith, Campus Carrier asst. arts & living editor
Like any new addition to one’s life, face masks can take some time to get adjusted to. With their rapid transition from medical device to everyday accessory, it can be easy to forget some of the less-obvious rules of mask-wearing. Improper mask use can make them ineffective at stopping viral spread or even lead to increased spreading. It’s important to be conscious of mask hygiene.
According to Pam Dunagan, director of the department of nursing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) represents students’ best and most accurate resource for questions about masks. She said that, based upon current CDC guidance, the most important guidelines students can remember about masks are to avoid putting one’s mask under their nose or on their forehead, to avoid touching one’s mask and to clean masks on a regular basis. The CDC currently recommends that reusable masks be washed after every use.
“I think of it sort of like a Band-Aid over your mouth, and you’re getting all of these bacteria in there, and then all of a sudden you’re taking off that Band-Aid and putting on the same thing the next day,” Dunagan said. “It’s real important that you go home each day and clean that, with regular laundry detergent and the warmest water you can do.”
Bleach can also be used to clean a mask, if washing it in the laundry isn’t an option.
“The CDC also recommends using a bleach concentration to clean your mask: they recommend one-third cup of bleach to one gallon of water, soaking it in that solution for about five minutes, then discarding that bleach solution, and then running it under some cool water and then drying that mask in the highest heat possible, or placing that mask in direct sunlight to let it dry,” Dunagan said.
Dunagan added that students should carefully evaluate the type of face covering they use to ensure its efficiency and efficacy. She said that evaluations of neck gaiters and face shields in preventing viral spread are still ongoing, but that these types of coverings are typically considered less effective than face masks. She continued that any mask should cover the face with at least two layers of fabric, and that students should avoid masks with “exhalation valves,” or small breathing holes on the front of the mask, which can allow exhaled droplets to escape.
The director of the Health Center, Emma Cordle, concurred with Dunagan’s advice, and emphasized the importance of washing masks regularly.
“You can get infections from not cleaning it, I mean it’s holding bacteria from you, and if someone else’s bacteria were to end up on your mask, then you definitely could get sick from reusing your mask,” Cordle said. “It’s really recommended that you should change it once a day. I throw mine in the laundry with my other laundry; I put it in a gentle wash bag. I have a family of three, so once a week I gather our masks and wash them all together with normal detergent and warm water.”
Cordle also said that students should avoid touching the front of their mask in case any viral or bacterial particles have landed on it. She said masks should instead be handled by the ear loops when putting them on or taking them off. She also noted that masks with more layers of fabric or other materials offer better protection since they provide more separation between the wearer and other people.
Finally, Cordle emphasized the importance of not sharing masks, including friends and even close family.
“My husband and I, we accidentally mixed – I washed [our masks], put them on my island, and I got his and he got mine, and we didn’t swap back,” Cordle said. “His mask belongs to me until I get it washed again.”