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COVID19 and Reusable Face Shields - What to look for...

Published: 21/07/2020

What to look for when buying reusable face masks in Australia and how you need to clean them


With face coverings to be mandatory in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, and strongly recommended Victoria-wide, millions of Australians have had to quickly get their hands on face masks.

There are a few things to consider when buying a reusable face mask, and even wearing a single-use mask.

From washing to microwaving, here are five things you need to know.

1. Look for a face mask that's triple-layered

When buying a reusable fabric face mask, or a single-use surgical mask, make sure they are good quality and that you are buying from a reputable source.

Ideally, a reusable cloth mask should have three layers of washable fabric and should fit snugly to cover your nose and mouth.

If you cannot find a suitable face mask in the shops or make a triple-layered one yourself, don't stress.

Victorian authorities have said a simple scarf or piece of fabric would be better than nothing in a pinch.

Coronavirus latest: Follow all the latest information in our COVID-19 live blog.

You can purchase cloth masks or surgical masks from chemists, hardware stores and other shops.

While surgical, N95 and P2 masks are being sold in shops and online, Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommends not using these outside of healthcare settings.

You could also make your own cloth mask by following the instructions from Victoria's DHHS website (click this link)

2. Don't put your reusable face mask in the microwave

You may have read or heard that putting your mask in the microwave with water will sterilise the mask.

But co-presenter of ABC's Coronacast, Dr Norman Swan, said not only could it be a fire hazard, it won't necessarily kill most germs.

"What will kill most germs — in fact, what will kill the virus — is to wash your mask with detergent and water and let it dry," Dr Swan said.

DHHS said cloth masks could be washed in the washing machine with other clothes, or hand-washed using soap and the warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth.

Let it completely dry before using it again.

3. Single-use masks should really only be used once

Re-using a single-use surgical mask is not recommended — but Dr Swan said they can be re-worn if there is no other option.

"If you're stuck, the key thing here is not to wear them so long that they're getting wet or damp because they lose their effect," Dr Swan said.

"So you want to actually take them off before they're wet or damp."

Dr Swan recommended removing the mask — being careful not to touch the front of it in case there's virus on it — and spraying it with a disinfectant, like Glen 20.

He then said to let it dry out completely and put it only later.

"As long as it's dry, then you probably can reuse it, but it's not recommended and it's not guaranteed that it is going to be as good a filter as first-time wear.

"But if you're stuck … a dry mask that's been disinfected with spray will do some good for you, but not indefinitely."

4. Avoid dampness

Whether you have a reusable fabric mask, or a single-use surgical mask, do not wear it if it becomes damp.

Masks could become contaminated or lose their effectiveness if they are damp, wet, damaged or dirty.

DHHS recommends washing a reusable mask each day.

And it should also be completely dry before re-use.

DHHS recommends using the heat setting on your dryer, laying out flat to air dry or, if possible, place it in direct sunlight.

What you need to know about coronavirus:

5. And remember, your face mask is only as effective as your hygiene and distancing

Face masks are not a complete shield against the virus — touching your mask if you have the virus on your hands could lead to infection.

That's why personal hygiene and hand washing is so important.

WHO advice on how to wear a non-medical fabric mask.(WHO)

But above all, Dr Swan said social distancing is the best preventative measure against coronavirus.

"Remember, when there's no vaccine and no treatment, there is only actually one thing that works and that's physical and social distancing," Dr Swan said. "It's the only thing that bends that curve back down."


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