|Now that wearing a mask to the mall, to the hairdresser and to school will be a regular occurrence for the next two years or more, a lot of questions have arisen about how it will fit into our busy lives. CBC News has previously discussed several key questions about masks, and here are some more answers:
Is it safe to pull down my mask and keep it under my chin? “No, that is probably the worst thing you could do with the mask,” Dr. Zain Chagla, a professor and infectious disease specialist at McMaster University in Hamilton, said in a recent interview with CBC News. That’s because it risks getting droplets or germs on the outside of the mask onto your chin and lower lip, he said. And pulling the mask down often involves touching the front of it, which is not recommended, as it could contaminate your hands. (Remember that you should only hold the mask by the ear loops and wash your hands before and after).
What’s the best way to stow a mask while on the go? The federal government recommends storing your face mask in a paper bag, envelope or something that won’t retain moisture if you will be wearing it again. Dr. Anand Kumar, a professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba, noted that a plastic bag isn’t recommended because it keeps moisture in, which could allow bacteria to grow on the mask. He said the proper way to carry a mask with you is in a paper bag. However, Kumar acknowledged this can be awkward, and said in places where the risk is low, it’s OK to put the mask in your pocket. On the other hand, Kumar said in a higher-risk environment, such as a community with outbreaks, it’s best to keep the mask on at all times, even when you’re outside between buildings.
Can you reuse a disposable mask? While cloth masks are designed to be washed and reused, most medical-style disposable masks are officially designed for a single use — especially in higher-risk environments. But Kumar said you can reuse them, especially if you’re just out and about in an area with a low prevalence of COVID-19. Between uses, he recommends leaving the mask in a paper bag for at least three days. During that time, any virus on the mask will gradually decrease. He said it would be “perfectly reasonable” to have five to seven masks that are rotated into use on subsequent days. Kumar said with this type of mask, what you see is what you get, so you can reuse it until it’s dirty, worn or damaged. “Obviously, you don’t want to reuse a mask that’s soiled,” he said. N95 masks can also be reused, Kumar said.
What should I look for when choosing a reusable mask? As masks become a bigger part of daily life, you’ll probably need more of them — like socks and underwear. Reusable cloth masks are generally recommended for public use so that the supply of disposable medical masks is left available for essential workers who need them. Kumar suggests a mask with multiple layers, as additional layers add more protection (the World Health Organization recommends three layers), and a good fit. In terms of materials, he recommends cotton, since viruses remain detectable in some synthetic materials for a longer time. The WHO recommends cotton or other water-absorbing materials for the inner layer, but recommends synthetic, water-repellent materials for the outer layer. A higher price doesn’t mean a mask is better, Kumar said. His favourite cloth mask cost $4.