The advent of COVID-19 disease and the virus that causes it has caused a significant increase in public awareness of the N95 and KN95 masks. There is also greater knowledge of the role of these masks in helping to reduce the risk of infection. Increasingly, national and local governments have taken the step of recommending that their citizens wear facial coverings when outdoors. This is particularly the case in circumstances in which social distancing is not possible. Some other governments have actually introduced mouth and nose coverings as a requirement. These developments have increased the prevalence of KN95 and N95 mask use among the public. However, it is not generally recognized that wearing an N95 mask will not automatically increase the level of protection. In this post we set out to provide 4 tips on how to maximize the effectiveness of a KN95 or N95 mask. We discuss whether you can reuse N95 or KN95 masks and offer tips for safely donning, wearing and disposing of them.
How Should I Safely Put On A KN95 or N95 Respirator?
To safely put on a KN95 or KN95 respirator, you should follow the steps below:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or with hand sanitizer;
- Hold the mask with the logo away from you;
- Pull the top and bottom of the mask apart;
- Put the mask on covering your nose and mouth;
- Mold the mask around the bridge of the nose to achieve a comfortable fit;
- Adjust the top and bottom straps to fit comfortably above and below your ears.
It is also a good idea to perform a seal check each time you put a mask on. To perform this check, cover the mask with both hands without pinching or denting its shape, and inhale then exhale. Check to ensure that you do not feel air blowing around the edges of the mask. If you do, adjust the mask and repeat the test.
How Should I Safely Wear an N95 or KN95 Mask?
Almost as important as whether you can safely reuse N95 masks is how to wear them to ensure maximum safety. Critical to the performance of these devices is the establishment of an airtight seal between the mask and your face. This is why the seal check described above is so important. It is also one of the key distinctions between N95 or KN95 masks, on one hand, and surgical or disposable masks on the other. One of the main impediments to the establishment of an airtight seal is facial hair. We therefore strongly recommend shaving any beard or mustache before wearing an N95 or KN95 mask in order to obtain its full benefit.
Is It Safe To Reuse An N95 Mask?
Both N95 and KN95 masks are single use devices and are not designed to be reused. Hence, the answer to the question above is a firm”no”. Reusing a mask can expose the user to the risk of infection, especially if he or she has been careless in removing the mask and in putting it back on. If you touch the mask with unwashed hands you may be transferring the virus from your hands onto the mask. By putting the mask back on, you will be exposing yourself to infection if virus particles are close to the mucous membranes of your face. After using an N95 or KN95 mask, you should carefully dispose of it by following the procedures we have outlined below.
How Should I Dispose Of An N95 Respirator After Wearing It?
Now that we have seen that we cannot safely reuse N95 or KN95 masks, we can discuss their safe disposal.
Safe disposal of an N95 or KN95 mask in the absence of medical waste containers should include the following steps:
- Wash your hands thoroughly;
- Gently remove the mask from your face, taking care not to disturb any liquid or solid contaminants that may be on the mask;
- Place the mask in a bag – e.g. a ziploc bag or grocery plastic bag, and secure the bag tightly;
- Place the bag in the garbage can or waste disposal;
- Wash your hands again immediately after disposing of the mask;
- Do not put on a new mask until you have washed your hands as required in step 4. just above.