Caring for Covid face masks: wrap it up between uses and throw it away when you’re done | australian way of life

EAs soon as I leave the house, the refrain – phone, wallet, keys, mask – stirs in my brain while I search in my bag for the essentials. Proof that, despite the odd feeling of wearing a mask in 2019, when we worried about inhaling bushfire smoke, face masks have become firmly entrenched in our daily lives.

Masks have been proven to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 and help us stay safe in supermarkets and between our table and the bathroom in restaurants, but they must be handled with special care to remain effective. .

Pack it

Most of us take off our masks quickly when we sit down in a cafe, but Raina MacIntyre, professor of global biosecurity at the University of New South Wales, says you should wash or sanitize your hands before going. touch your mask, and handle only by the straps or ear loops.

Instead of putting it in your pocket, you should put your mask in a bag when not in use. Photograph: Michael Kentendre/AFP/Getty Images

When you’re not using your mask, rather than putting it in your pocket or leaving it loose in your bag, put it in a ziplock or paper bag. If you have disinfectant handy, you can spray it lightly before putting it away.

The fabric no longer cuts it

While the “do not touch” advice applies to both cloth masks and disposable masks, MacIntyre says that while cloth masks are okay with the other variants, they “really don’t cut it against Omicron.”

This is because the Omicron variant is more transmissible, so a mask that fits and filters well offers much better protection. MacIntyre says it’s best to use P2 or N95 masks, or if they’re not available, a blue surgical mask. in this video, occupational hygienist Kate Cole explains how to make sure you’re wearing your mask correctly.

When to throw a mask

According to MacIntyre, two factors determine when a mask should be discarded. The first is obvious, if a mask is “visibly wet or dirty”, throw it away. The other factor is how long you’ve been wearing the mask, which MacIntyre says shouldn’t exceed eight to 10 hours. Although this should be seen as “a rough guide”, she says, it can be doubled in case of “extreme shortage”.

If a disposable mask is
If a disposable mask is “visibly dirty” it should be thrown away – otherwise experts recommend throwing it away after eight to 10 hours of use, unless there is a serious shortage. Photograph: Daniel Garcia Mendoza/Alamy

How to get rid of a mask

It’s no surprise that disposable masks are an environmental hazard. According to RMIT University researcher Dr. Mohammad Saberian, 6.8 billion disposable face masks are used worldwide every day. He says that since disposable masks are mostly made of non-biodegradable plastics, they could take 450 years to decompose.

The good news is that Saberian and his colleagues at RMIT have shown how disposable masks can be recycled into road-making material. They suggest that once the masks are decontaminated, they could be shredded and mixed with building rubble.

But Saberian says: “The biggest barrier to recycling face masks and PPE waste is the lack of proper facilities and equipment at waste recycling facilities.” Face masks in Australia are put in the trash, collected with household waste and sent to landfill. Saberian says designated bins for face masks or PPE waste should be in place, at least for high-traffic places like hospitals, aged care facilities and shopping malls.

But MacIntyre says that for now, you should be sure to throw the masks in the trash: “Please do not throw away or leave used masks lying around.”

Maintenance of cloth masks

“Better than nothing”: fabric masks should be washed at 60°C after each daily use. Photograph: Marvin Tolentino/Alamy

What about all the cloth face masks we reluctantly collected? They are always better than wearing nothing and should be machine washed at 60°C after every day use. This means that if you wear cloth masks on a daily basis, you will need to have several in rotation.

Maison Modulare founder Chrys Wong suggests machine washing “on a gentle cycle with items of similar colors and sizes”, then using a dryer, ironing or steaming the mask by afterwards, for further sterilization.

As for the straps, “unfortunately, once the strap is detached from the mask itself, it’s very difficult to sew back on,” she says. If you are not skilled enough with a needle and thread to unsew and sew new elastic yourself, you should take masks to your local dry cleaner or tailor to have the elastic replaced.

Which face mask should you wear during the Omicron outbreak: N95, KF94, fabric, P2?  – explanatory video
Which face mask should you wear during the Omicron outbreak: N95, KF94, fabric, P2? – explanatory video

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