How Long Can You Wear a Disposable Mask?
In many parts of the country, medical masks for healthcare facilities are still in critically low supply due to the massive increase in demand from COVID-19. As such, hospitals and facilities have had to reconsider their policies on the extended use and reuse of supplies like the N95 respirator (or N95 mask), which would generally be a short-term or single-use item. But how long can you wear a disposable mask before it is no longer safe for you or those around you? The answer depends on a variety of factors.
A Look at Extended Use and Reuse of the N95 Mask
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released recommended guidelines for the extended use of the N95 mask in particular, but much of their advice about safely wearing and removing masks for coronavirus can be applied across the board. For now, we will focus on their recommendations for the N95 mask and its two forms of long-term use: extended and reuse.
Guidelines for Extended Use of an N95 Mask
Extended use of the N95 mask refers to situations when a healthcare professional keeps the mask on during close contact with multiple patients. This form of long-term use is suited to isolation areas where all of the patients have the same condition. Many hospitals and healthcare facilities have used this tactic in isolation areas for patients who tested positive for COVID-19. Extended use is also generally preferred over reuse because it involves less touching of the respirator — the more you touch your N95 mask or face, the higher your risk of transmission becomes.
Guidelines for Reuse of an N95 Mask
Reuse of an N95 respirator means that the healthcare professional removes the medical mask after each encounter with a patient, stores it and dons it again for the next encounter. The N95 mask can be reused as long as it is functional, meaning that it forms to the professional's face, allows them to breathe and does not have any of the professional's or patient's bodily fluids on it. The face mask brand that you purchase from may also have guidelines for reuse that your facility can follow — if not, the CDC's preliminary data suggests a maximum of five reuses.
When to Discard an N95 Mask
There are a few situations that call for the immediate disposal of an N95 mask, whether you are in an extended use or reuse situation. You should discard your N95 mask if:
- You performed an aerosol-generating procedure on a patient.
- A patient you had close contact with was co-infected with another infectious disease.
- Your respirator has been contaminated with a patient's bodily fluids, such as blood, nasal secretions or respiratory droplets.
- Your respirator no longer fits or functions properly (no longer forms to the face, is difficult to breathe through or is damaged).
To help preserve as many masks as possible, the CDC recommends wearing a cleanable face shield that can protect the N95 mask from damage and infectious droplets. The RB Sigma Domestic Face Shield and Heavy Duty Face Shield can both provide further protection without sacrificing visual clarity.
Coronavirus Masks for the General Public
The N95 mask and other medical and surgical mask products should not be used by the general public — they are reserved for healthcare workers and first responders. If you have a reusable face mask, the CDC recommends washing it in a load of laundry or a bleach solution after each wear. Much like an N95 mask, if your cloth face mask no longer forms properly to your face or is damaged in a way that prevents it from covering your nose and mouth, you should discard it. Aside from these factors, your face mask can be worn as long as you are in public.
Here is a quick reminder of how to wear and remove coronavirus masks:
- Wash your hands before putting on your face mask or covering.
- Fit the mask over your nose and mouth and make sure it's secure beneath your chin.
- Try to limit how much you touch the face mask while you're out in public.
- Once you have returned home, grab the ear loops on either side of the mask and pull it away from your face. If your mask ties behind your head, untie the bottom strings first and pull it off over your head.
- Place the face mask in a washing machine or cleaning solution. Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth while handling the mask, and refrain from doing so until you have washed your hands.
Preorder N95 Masks for Your Facility at RB Medical Supply
RB Medical Supply is here to ensure that your healthcare facility does not run out of N95 masks and other critical PPE and supplies. We carry a variety of medical masks and, starting in July, we will also be selling N95 respirators and surgical masks that were manufactured in our own Mentor, Ohio, facility. View all of the face masks for sale that our medical supply company has to offer and place your order today.
At RB Medical Supply, we believe in protecting our frontline workers, employees and communities. To do our part, we offer wholesale medical supplies online. Having a medical supplier you can trust is vital to taking care of yourself and others. Let us be the medical supply company you rely on.