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Everything you need to know about masks

Annemarie Schmocker, RN, BSN, CICSpecialty: Infection Control & Prevention, who holds an infection prevention and control certification for nurses, shared in the Edwards-Elmhurst Health’s Healthy Driven Blog that at Edward-Elmhurst Health, their  COVID-19 Steering Committee — a team of health system administrators/senior leadership and clinical department directors/managers — meets regularly to discuss new medical literature and findings, and review guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization, Infectious Disease Society of America and various medical societies.Together, they analyze this information and used it to update their infection control and prevention procedures. Universal masking is an important topic on the agenda. Their  current recommendations for our community include:

Masks help reduce the spread of COVID-19. It’s important to wear a mask or face covering when in public settings, around new people, and when social distancing measures are not able to be taken. Masks reduce the spread of COVID-19 to others and when widely used, are most likely to do so successfully. They provide a barrier to individuals who may not know they are infected with COVID-19 and help prevent a person from spreading the virus to others by keeping respiratory droplets (released when someone is talking, singing, coughing, or sneezing) contained within the mask. Masks prevent the droplets from reaching others if 6-feet social distancing cannot be maintained.

Wearing a mask is safe for most people. Despite an increase in concerns that masks can restrict breathing or cause reduced oxygen levels (hypoxia), there is no current research or evidence to support these claims. Studies have looked at other pandemics where mask-wearing was prevalent, such as the SARS outbreak in China in 2002, and have found no long-term negative effects of wearing masks.

Children under 2, individuals having trouble breathing, or anyone who is unconscious, or cannot remove the mask on their own, should not wear a mask. The CDC offers alternatives to consider for these special considerations to help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. At Edward-Elmhurst Health, we work with individuals who have special considerations on a case-by-case basis to assist with alternatives and maintain safety at all times.

Take regular breaks. Wearing masks for prolonged periods of time can be unpleasant or irritating, especially in warm, humid weather. We encourage taking short breaks when your situation allows you to do so safely. Remember to drink water during breaks to maintain hydration.

Mask removal and mask storage is important. Wearing and caring for your mask is an important part of daily life. We recommend daily washing of cloth masks and the following removal and storage guidelines for both surgical and cloth masks:

  • To remove the mask with intent to re-use:
  1. Wash hands.
  2. Assume the front is contaminated and remove mask slowly and carefully by grasping ear loops or lower ties and then upper ties. Keep loops or ties from touching the interior of the mask.
  3. After removing the mask, inspect for contamination or any distortions in shape or form. If soiled, torn or saturated, the mask should be discarded.
  4. If the mask is NOT visibly soiled, torn, or saturated, carefully place on a clean paper towel or paper bag.
  5. Wash hands.
  • To re-apply used mask:
  1. Wash hands.
  2. Grasp mask at the ear loops or upper ties.
  3. Place over face
    • For ear-loop style mask: Secure ear loops behind ears, secure mask.
    • For tie-back style mask: Secure upper ties first, behind the head. End by securing lower ties behind the head.
  4. Wash hands.

Protecting skin can ease discomfort. Skin or lip irritation or dryness can occur with long-term mask-wearing. Use the following tips to avoid irritation:

  • Ensure your face mask is dry before using it.
  • Avoid makeup if possible as it can create moisture under the mask.
  • Use a barrier cream like Aquaphor or Cerave to prevent dry skin under the mask.

The bottom line on wearing a mask. These basic infection practices are key to fighting the spread of COVID-19. Wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, washing hands thoroughly, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding those who are sick, and regularly disinfecting surfaces are the most powerful steps we can take to stay healthy and protect ourselves and others from both symptomatic and asymptomatic spread. Even when or if a vaccine becomes available, it will be crucial to maintain these practices and not let our guard down as we wait for immunity to increase throughout our communities.

For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.

The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read the latest on COVID-19.

Get more information about coronavirus from Healthy Driven Chicago.

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