Proper mask maintenance important to health and safety

Immokalee — More Americans are wearing masks this week as major chain stores such as Publix, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Home Depot, Kohls and Target implement new requirements that shoppers must wear masks to cover their mouths and noses while in the stores.

Last week, Robert Refield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, told the American Medical Association he believes the COVID-19 pandemic could be brought under control in four to eight weeks if “we could get everybody to wear a mask.”

The recommendation to wear masks is in addition to washing hands frequently and thoroughly, washing hands or using sanitizer before touching your face, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining 6 feet of distance from those who are not members of your household.

Cloth masks help stop the spread of the virus by catching the tiny droplets of moisture that leave the nose and mouth when you talk, cough, sneeze or breathe. Redfield explained these droplets carry and spread the virus.

What happens after the cloth catches the droplets? According to the CDC, cloth masks should be washed after every use. What’s a use? When you put the mask on, the use starts. When you take it off, that use is complete. The dirty fabric mask should be put in the washing machine or in a sealed bag for washing later; a disposable mask should be placed in a trash can or in a trash bag for later disposal. (Do not throw masks on the ground. Place them in a trash receptacle or take them with you.) That means, to follow CDC guidelines, if you are going shopping and you want to take your mask off between stores, you will need more than one mask. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after taking off a dirty mask. Carry extra clean masks in a clean, sealed container (such as a plastic bag). Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before putting on a clean mask.

The CDC advises the public to use cloth masks because they can be washed and reused, and because in some areas there are still concerns about supply of disposable surgical masks needed for health care professionals.

Redfield referenced recently published studies that found a handmade cloth mask made of two layers of stitched cotton fabric to be the most effective of the cloth coverings tested for stopping the transmission of moisture droplets. A pipe cleaner or wire sewn into the top of the mask can make it easier to fit the mask securely around your nose.

Redfield and other health professionals have stressed that cloth face masks are just one tool to control the spread of the virus. Hand washing frequently and throughly still tops the list of preventive measures. The CDC also recommends maintaining 6 feet of space between yourself and others who are not members of your household when possible, even when wearing masks, and avoiding places where many people are gathered.

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