With instructions and guidelines making masks compulsory in many countries in the world, we are also looking at a heightened risk from contaminated masks left strewn all over pavements and public places. In many cities, masks have been seen haphazardly strewn on pavements and escalators, while pictures of masks in lifts and other public areas have emerged online.
Experts warn that the used masks lying around pose public health risks. What are these risks, how should masks be disposed of and what if one wants to reuse his mask?
When masks are not properly discarded especially the ones that are soiled or have a lot of respiratory secretions on them, they pose a potential health hazard if anyone comes in contact with the mask. The viruses on them will most certainly be transmitted to others through this contact, if someone touches their own face after the contact.
The virus when left exposed can survive for a few hours to a few days. General safety instructions with using and disposing disposable masks say:
- Remove mask from face, be gentle so as to not disturb liquid and solid contaminants on the mask
- Place mask in a plastic bag – like a grocery shopping bag or a zip lock bag
- Secure bag tightly
- Place plastic bag into the garbage can or waste disposal unit
- Wash hands immediately after disposing of your mask
- Never put on a new face mask until you have properly washed your hands
Disposable gloves and masks should be disposed off in the black cart as garbage.
According to CDC, reusable masks should be cleaned as follows:
How to clean
- Washing machine
- You can include your face covering with your regular laundry.
- Use regular laundry detergent and the warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth used to make the face covering.
- Washing by hand
- Prepare a bleach solution by mixing:
5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) household bleach per gallon of room temperature water or
4 teaspoons household bleach per quart of room temperature water
- Check the label to see if your bleach is intended for disinfection. Some bleach products, such as those designed for safe use on colored clothing, may not be suitable for disinfection. Ensure the bleach product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.
- Soak the face covering in the bleach solution for 5 minutes.
- Rinse thoroughly with cool or room temperature water.
- Make sure to completely dry cloth face covering after washing.
Below is a pictorial guideline from WHO for usage