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How to most effectively wear and reuse your face mask

The effectiveness of face masks depends on how they’re worn.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Wearing face masks is one of the many things we’re doing to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But how effective they are, depends on how they’re worn. 

Dr. Russell Lampen, division chief of infectious diseases at Spectrum Health Medical Group offered some pointers.

The most important thing is that it fits tightly to the face, covering both the nose and mouth. Also, avoid touching the front because that’s where the bulk of the germs are. 

Dr. Lampen demonstrated how to properly put one one. 

“If you’ve got hand sanitizer in your car, wash your hands before you pick the mask up,” he said. “Then try not to touch the front of the mask. This one’s got loop ties, and you put it over your head. Make sure that it's sitting nice and tight, over the nose and mouth, and then tie the straps in the back.”

Also try not to touch it while you’re wearing it. Do those same steps in reverse to take it off: leave the building, grab it by the loops, and then use hand sanitizer. 

Both disposable masks, like surgical and N95s, as well as cloth masks can be safely reused following the right steps. 

Frequently wash a cloth mask. Typically every few days is good, depending on how much it’s used. Wash it with other laundry, routine detergent and the heat from the dryer will kill the virus. 

Keep a disposable mask clean by storing it in a safe spot until worn again. 

“My recommendation is leaving them in a place that they can dry out,” Dr. Lampen said. “For instance, if you're going in and out and keep a mask in your car, keep a paper sandwich bag in your car. Drop the mask in the sandwich bag when you're done using it. That allows it to dry out, the virus doesn't live very long on dry surfaces.”

It’s time to throw out a mask when it starts to fall apart or has holes, and when the disposable ones get visibly dirty or stop fitting correctly. 

According to Dr. Lampen, as many as 40-45% of new COVID-19 cases are likely related to people who are asymptomatic. That’s a major reason why masks are so important.

When it comes to homemade masks, ones made of dense fabric are better filters. A way to check this is holding it up to light, and if it doesn't shine through it’s a more effective mask. 

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