Although some countries have promoted using a mask during flu season for years, face mask usage did not become common among the U.S. public until the COVID-19 pandemic. Masks were widely regarded as something only worn by surgeons and doctors dealing directly with infected individuals.
Wearing a face mask does not eliminate the need for social distancing, hand hygiene, and other best practices for preventing illness. However, masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19, seasonal influenza, and other airborne illnesses.
Wash Your Hands Before and After
The skin on your face, and membranes inside your nose and eyes, are vulnerable to certain bacteria and other pathogens. Although COVID-19 and seasonal influenza are commonly spread through the air, they can linger on your hands long enough to be transferred to your face. This means that your hands should be completely clean anytime you handle a new mask.
Wash your hands before putting on a mask and again after removing the mask. Although hand-washing is best since it more thoroughly removes dirt, hand sanitizer is acceptable if soap and water are not available. Some pathogens may remain on the mask’s surface after removal, so make sure to dispose of the mask promptly.
Wear the Mask Correctly
Masks are designed to cover both your nose and mouth to prevent respiratory droplets from escaping or getting in. A mask that covers your mouth and nose is the only way to protect yourself and others from illness.
If you’re struggling to keep your nose and mouth covered at the same time, you may need to adjust your mask. 3-ply surgical masks, in particular, are designed to spread over a wider area if needed. N95 and KN95 masks can also widen easily while keeping the entire nose covered.
Some simple cloth face masks don’t stretch or expand easily, making them a poor choice for adults with large noses or wide faces. Keep a box of larger masks on hand for yourself and others who need a wider size.
Replace When Wet
Major medical organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have consistently recommended replacing a face mask once it has become wet with any type of moisture. This is partly due to wet material being more difficult to breathe through and partly due to some evidence that wet masks cannot filter pathogens effectively.
Carry an extra mask with you so you can replace it as soon as it gets wet or soiled. Employers should keep masks on hand, so employees have an easy replacement available at any time.
Don’t Touch Your Face
Once your mask is in place, avoid touching your face directly. If you must adjust your mask, grasp it by the fabric farthest from your nose and mouth and immediately wash your hands.
If you feel the need to adjust or remove your mask due to discomfort or rubbing, consider using an ear saver that holds the ear loops in place behind the ears. Although this problem is not common with high-quality masks, it can result in irritation if you have sensitive skin.
Masks are essential in situations where social distancing is difficult to maintain, but they’re a smart addition in any scenario where contracting illnesses is possible. Keeping a stock of face masks and knowing how to wear them correctly makes it easier to respond appropriately to any situation.
ICU Production is committed to providing masks and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like gowns, face shields, and gloves. We know the complexities of mask supply practices, so call our PPE hotline at (323) 970-2513 for more information about how our masks can work for you.