Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, seeing individuals wear masks to shield themselves and others from coronavirus has gone from disturbing to a surprisingly natural aspect of daily life. However, you could be making a critical error on a regular basis when it comes
to reducing the chance of catching the virus or unintentionally infecting others by reusing your masks.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC) has advised that people wear fabric face covers that can be washed easily with detergent and water to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus from person to person, experts suggest that the reuse of a mask can potentially do more harm than good.
"The danger of reusing your discarded face mask is basically exposure and cross-contamination," states Enchanta Jenkins, MD, physician. "If viruses or bacteria have infected your mask ... then your face / hands may be infected; any particles of infection might also be inhaled."
Since masks will not be washed easily with soap and water, and because spraying disinfectants on them will induce both dermatological and respiratory symptoms, if the virus is on them, it is possible that it will continue to propagate on other surfaces, perhaps causing contamination, before it is exchanged with a new one.
Research currently shows that the repeated use of masks can lead to cross-contamination, even in otherwise sterile surgical settings. The bacterial count on the disposable masks of surgeons rose in direct relation to the length of time they were worn in a 2018 report reported in the Journal of Orthopaedic Translation, with the researchers of the study proposing that surgical masks be adjusted regularly during the day.
Jenkins advises disposable strapless masks for frontline healthcare staff for the best means of defense, who can remove them with each patient experience, frequent hand washing and physical distancing for laypeople who want to avoid the transmission of the infection. And if you want to minimize the risk of falling ill, make sure you are aware of the surfaces at home that may be contaminated.