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How to Maintain and Reuse N95 and KN95 Masks

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By Samuetta Hill Drew

This week the roll out began regarding the 400 million free N95 masks made available to Americans by the Biden Administration. These free N95 masks are available for pick up at various pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, supermarket pharmacy chains, etc., as well as community health centers. Each adult can receive three N95 masks at no cost. The government is limiting the distribution to three masks per adult “to ensure broad access for all Americans,” according to a White House official.
Why N95 masks some may question? Research has steadily shown that the N95 respirator masks and other high filtration masks like KN95 and KF94s provide the highest level of protection against the transmission of COVID-19. The research has further shown that some of the cloth and surgical masks many Americans wear are inferior and do not offer the same level of protection against COVID-19.
With the cost of a respirator type masks averaging around $1 to $3 apiece, it is important to know and understand how to maintain and reuse them, just tossing them away quickly like a napkin can add up. This safety article will review how to properly maintain and reuse your N95, KN95 and other disposable masks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that one can re-wear a mask after it’s been stored in a paper bag for a few days. The coronavirus has an expected survival time of 72 hours. Some people write a number on their bags and rotate them within a five day interval.
The CDC states it is safe to reuse masks right now even with the Omicron variant. Masks with high filtration work the same way on any variant. To maintain the integrity of your masks, you should handle your masks with care by touching only the elastics and washing your hands afterwards.
Some may wonder what happens if their masks get wet. Moisture, even from your breath, degrades the mask little by little, and that process will be quicker if worn during a workout session. Christopher Sulmonte, project administrator at the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit, a facility for patients with emerging infectious diseases, recommends if your masks get drenched, throw it away.
Disinfecting a mask with bleach or alcohol is discouraged. Some have been tempted to rinse or wash a used disposable mask just to freshen it up, do not try it. Do not use hydrogen peroxide or other chemicals to disinfect your mask. Dry heat decontamination can be effective only one or two times, and UV for three times before the mask’s fit and filtration may be compromised.
So, the other question to help Keep an Eye on Safety becomes, when should I throw my mask away? Sulmonte’s answer is “there are no hard and fast rules.” Using the CDC paper bag suggestion recommends that after five uses to throw away your disposable N95 mask. Others believe the mask is still wearable if its elastic bands continue to create a secure fit and the material looks clean and provides good airflow. Note – dust, pollen, air pollutants, makeup, skin oils, and yes, inactivated virus eventually accumulate and clog up the filter.
It is important that you think about where and how long you have worn your mask. If you wore it at the airport and on the plane, you may want to toss your mask sooner than a person who wears theirs to the grocery store.