Everywhere you go, people are using face masks and gloves, slathering on hand sanitizer, and wiping down everything using either sanitizing wipes or sanitizing spray. These are great ways to reduce the risk of contracting pathogens which may threaten the population. A lot of money is being spent on these items, but the level of protection offered is reduced when they are not used properly. This is a simple guide to using common Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) correctly.
There is a wide variety of face masks available to limit the amount of aerosolized pathogens you could either inhale, making yourself sick; or exhale, possibly making someone else sick. Some masks are made for offering more protection from one or the other, and some help with both scenarios. How do you know the difference? This is a quick overview of the most common face masks and how they are best used.
Paper Disposable Masks (also referred to as surgical or 3-ply masks)
- Come in varying thicknesses
- May be called surgical, isolation, dental, or medical procedure masks
- Are one-time use – do not try to wash and reuse
- Should be replaced during wearing if it becomes compromised
- Gaps between the face and mask mean protection is not 100% from germs, but it is a viable, inexpensive option to reduce risk
- To dispose of, place used masks in plastic bags and discard in the trash.
N95 Respirator Masks
- These should be worn by healthcare professionals and those on the frontlines where protecting themselves and patients is critical.
- To be most effective, these masks should be fitted to the face properly and wearers should go through training on their use.
- The general public should not use these as the supply should be reserved for healthcare workers when possible.
- Slightly stronger requirements for breathability than KN95.
- Can be worn by healthcare professionals if N95 masks are not available
- The same level of particle protection as N95
- Manufactured to Chinese standards, meaning they are required to pass fit tests
- Weaker requirements for breathability than the N95
- May be commercially produced or homemade
- Washable and reusable
- Don’t share masks with family members – assign masks to each person and wash after every use
- Effective for reducing risk in public places
- Different types of fabrics mean different levels of protection – see a comprehensive list here
Nitrile gloves are probably one of the most misused items in the PPE toolbox, especially by laypersons. While they can be effective at keeping germs off your hands, they can still transfer germs from one surface to another and they can transfer germs to your face if you touch a germy surface and then touch your face while wearing them. Disposing of the gloves is an entirely different matter. Many places are finding discarded gloves in parking lots and along streets. It’s best to remove them properly and dispose of them properly. We’ll talk about how to do both.
Remember! Gloves are not made of some kind of corona-killing materials that instantly renders the virus unviable. It’s simply a way to keep it from getting on your skin. That means when you are touching items in a grocery store, you may be getting the virus on the glove. If you then adjust your glasses or touch your phone, you are transferring it to those objects. As we have been told repeatedly – DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE – even if you are wearing gloves.
Removing dirty gloves (there is a short video on how to do this here)
- with one gloved hand, pinch the outside of the other glove with your thumb and forefinger on the top of your wrist
- peel that glove off and crumple it completely in the still-gloved hand
- Slide the index finger of your ungloved hand CAREFULLY under the remaining glove at the inside wrist of the gloved hand, being sure to only touch the inside of the glove
- Use the index finger to pull the glove off inside out and grasp it only from the inside (which is now on the outside)
- The first glove will be contained inside the second glove
Disposing of dirty gloves
- First – do NOT throw the glove on the ground, street, or anywhere else it can be picked up by animals or has to be picked up by someone else
- Use a garbage can or biohazard waste collection container to throw away the gloves
- If there is no receptacle nearby, keep a resealable bag in your vehicle to put dirty gloves in until they can be disposed of, and keep it sealed unless you are putting another pair inside
Washing your hands frequently for 20 seconds with soap and water is really the very best way to keep them clean. Refraining from touching your face will also keep germs from transferring from your hands and entering your body. It’s common sense we’ve all been taught many times before. Sometimes soap and water are not available, so hand sanitizer can come in handy. Having the right kind of sanitizer, along with using it properly, is important when it comes to COVID-19.
- The most effective hand sanitizers have an alcohol content of 60% or higher
- The CDC, FDA, and just about every other source who has published a commentary on hand sanitizers in the past two months do not recommend making your own hand sanitizer as getting the alcohol content correct is tricky under controlled circumstances and most of us don’t have a chemistry laboratory in our basement (it has a lot to do with evaporation and how the different kinds of alcohol react with other ingredients)
- Trust the label if it has an FDA approval listed, and mentions the types of viruses and bacteria the product has been proven to kill
How to use it safely and correctly:
- Ideally, rub it on all surfaces of your hands for 30 seconds and let them air dry
- Keep it out of reach of children as the smells of some sanitizers may tempt them to ingest it. Even a small amount can cause alcohol poisoning in small children, so if you use it on children make sure they are supervised and do not lick their hands. Yes, children lick their hands sometimes
- If your hands are heavily soiled, washing them for 20 seconds with soap and water is the best method for cleaning them. (All soaps are equally effective.)
Coronaviruses are reported to stay viable on hard surfaces anywhere from 2 hours to 3 days or longer, depending on the material. Therefore, high use areas and objects touched frequently need to be cleaned on a regular basis to keep those in contact with them healthy. There are directions on the back of every container of wipes or bottle of spray cleaner and they should be followed. For example: Some say to leave the surface wet for 1 minute before wiping with a dry cloth. Others say to leave on longer, and some you can wipe right away.
Proper Use of Sprays and wipes:
- Read all directions on the bottle
- Allow spray or disinfectant on wipes to stay on the surface for the allotted time to be effective according to directions
- Immediately wash any cloths used or dispose of paper towels properly
- Follow ventilation instructions on the bottle
The best way to stay safe is to follow the guidelines set forth by medical officials and stay informed of the most recent developments. Information changes quickly and being prepared means paying attention.