With Covid surging in my neck of the woods (we’ve hit a record-breaking 22.3% positivity rate), I think it’s time for my family to rethink our slacker mask practices. I, for one, am a serial re-user of my personalized (and very sassy) cloth mask; though my kids wear just-out-of-the-package masks to school each morning, theirs are the flimsy ones that gap on the sides. With omicron, it’s clear it’s time for us to up our game and invest in some KN95s.
And I do mean invest. Easily as effective as the medical-grade K95 (both the KN95 and K95 reportedly filter out 95% of minute particles), the KN95 is more affordable–but that doesn’t mean they are inexpensive. To outfit my family of four in fresh KN95s every day for one month would run us about $240. That is not chump-change.
And now I, like many others, am asking a very pertinent question: Can we wear our KN95s more than once?
Unfortunately, a collectively-agreed-upon answer does not exist. Sean Kelly, founder of New Jersey-based PPE of America, does not mince words. “To my shock and dismay, some people tell me they wear the same mask for days or even a week without changing,” Kelly told Rolling Stone. “That is not only stupid, but extremely dangerous, especially if their mask was not decontaminated by one of the newer decontamination machines.”
I think it’s safe to say that not too many of us own any sort of “decontamination machine,” but Dr. Joe Gastaldo, Infectious Disease Expert at OhioHealth, claims you can get the job done by putting your used respirator in a plain paper bag for 24-48 hours. Dr. Jessica Shepherd, Chief Medical Officer at VeryWell Health based in New York, agrees. “It’s not the bag that’s doing the magic trick,” she explains. “It’s actually the process of keeping the mask away from decontaminating someone else or a surface, and also keeping a dry environment in order for the virus to not spread or stay on the mask.”
Cassandra M. Pierre, an infectious disease physician and medical director of public health programs at Boston Medical Center, told Health that while medical personnel and those in high-risk settings should dispose of their masks at the end of each day, it’s possible for the rest of us to wear the same respirator for up to a week. One caveat, though: you need to inspect it routinely, since any gapping or dirt may “impair the integrity and filtration ability of the mask.”
So there’s no hard and fast rule, and, like so much of the pandemic, it’s up to the individual to figure out what works for them. For my family, with Omicron and its incredibly high transmission rate lurking I’m subscribing to “better safe than sorry” and tossing that respirator at the end of each day. Sure, we’ll have to revisit our family budget and cut out some frills–but, until Covid is under control, I’m convinced it’s worth it.
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