WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Many people consider wearing a mask to be cumbersome, but people have relied on them before during pandemics.
A Purdue University nursing professor says looking to the past – as well as additional knowledge of medicine and technology – can help people through the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Joy Pieper, a clinical assistant professor of nursing in Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences, teaches two courses on health care history and wartime influences on health care. As the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading in the spring, Pieper and Rebecca Johnson taught about the influenza outbreak of 1918 and the protective measures communities took – including wearing masks – to reduce the spread of disease.
The current surging spread of COVID-19 has put a high level of attention on masks. Pieper, who has expertise as a surgical nurse and has worked on infection control and patient safety initiatives, provides four tips on proper mask usage:
Pick out a mask that is easy to wear. Pieper says studies are suggesting the higher the thread count in masks, the better, and another layer helps too. “Think of the Swiss cheese principle: You are trying to block anything from getting through consecutive holes. The more layers, the better,” she says.
For the general public, Pieper does not recommend wearing a mask with valves. “Masks with certain valves that can filter are really designed for use by workers in cleaning and construction fields to filter out dust and other materials. They don’t prevent the spread of infection because the valve only filters air coming into the mask and not what is exhaled.”
Proper mask placement and removal. When removing a mask, be sure to fold it in half so the outer part of the mask stays contained when stored in a pocket or plastic bag.
“You should always clean your hands after you remove the mask,” she says. “If you think about it, you are touching something you have put in place to literally intercept germs, so it contains potentially infectious material that you now have on your hands and could spread through touch.”
Cover both the mouth and nose. “Wearing your mask to cover only your mouth is not helping anyone, including you,” Pieper says. “Both your nose and mouth need to be covered because you breathe out of both. The mask is meant to cover all air exchanges, not just a cough.”
Keep your mask dry and clean it after every use. Pieper says wet fabric can transfer germs more easily than dry, so it’s advisable to carry replacement masks.
“The mask or masks you wear during a day should be laundered before use again, so it is a good idea to own a couple different ones so you do not have to do laundry every day,” Pieper says. “They can be cleaned by machine or by hand according to the type of fabric.”
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