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In the new normal, wearing a face mask is considered a social responsibility. Face masks help slow down the spread of disease-causing pathogens by acting as a mechanical barrier that prevents respiratory droplets from being expelled into the air when a person talks, sneezes, or coughs.

How to Be a Responsible User of Face Masks

In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization recommends everyone, even those without symptoms, to wear a face mask in public at all times.

Here are some tips on how to be a responsible user of face masks:

Consider Buying Fabric Face Masks

The new normal requires regular and appropriate use of face masks to control the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, many face masks being produced, including surgical masks and N95 respirators, are designed for one-time use only, meaning they are supposed to be thrown away after a day’s use. Recent studies have shown that, on average, 129 billion face masks are worn globally every month. The question now lingers, “Where do all these face masks go?”

This environmental problem brought about by the need to wear face masks daily pushed for fabric face masks. Unlike surgical masks and N95 respirators, cloth masks are washable and reusable, meaning they are more eco-friendly and don’t easily end up in the waste stream. Cloth masks also help keep a steady supply of surgical masks and N95 respirators for healthcare workers. Apart from that, cloth masks are available in various colors and prints, allowing you to stay fashionable while keeping yourself protected.

Dispose of Your Face Mask Properly

Perhaps the only downside of wearing reusable cloth masks is that they are only appropriate for general community settings. People working in the healthcare industry and those living in high-risk areas need medical-grade masks to keep themselves protected. If a situation requires you to use disposable face masks, make sure to dispose of them properly by storing them in a plastic bag and throwing them into the appropriate waste bin. In addition, don’t leave your face masks lying around to prevent microbes from spreading onto surfaces.

Donate to Healthcare Facilities

Now more than ever, healthcare workers need our collective support. They face a global shortage of medical equipment, including face masks, which they need to protect themselves. Without the proper protective gear to treat patients, healthcare workers are put at a higher risk of getting infected themselves. Fortunately, there are ways to help. Many local governments units, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations have streamlined efforts to provide medical supplies to healthcare workers who need them most.

Know What Kind of Face Mask to Use

Not all face masks are created for the same purpose. Some face masks, such as N95 and surgical masks, are more appropriate for use by healthcare workers and people living in areas with a high risk of infection because these devices provide a high level of protection against transmissible diseases.

Reusable face masks such as cloth masks, as already mentioned, can be used in general community settings or by those living in low-risk areas. You also have the option of purchasing an antimicrobial mask, which is typically made of fabric that has been treated with antimicrobial treatment. While such masks can help prevent microbes from thriving on the fabric, they should not be used as medical devices if they are not advertised for such a purpose.

Being a responsible user of face masks also means knowing the suitable face mask to use in a given situation.

Use Face Masks Correctly

Face masks can only be effective in slowing the spread of diseases if worn and used correctly. There are several dos and don’ts when it comes to the correct use of face masks. Here are some:

Dos:

  • Wear a face mask in public at all times
  • Seal the mask around your nose and chin properly
  • Wash your reusable cloth masks after every use
  • Store cloth masks in a resealable ziplock or other clean containers when not in use
  • Dispose of your mask in the correct waste bin

Don’t’s

  • Don’t reuse surgical masks
  • Don’t leave your mask lying around
  • Don’t share your mask with other people
  • Don’t touch your mask with bare hands
  • Don’t leave your mask hanging under your chin

Wearing a face mask is not the be-all and end-all of good hygiene practices in the new normal. Regular handwashing, proper cough, and sneeze etiquette, and physical distancing are also equally important in reducing the spread of transmissible diseases. By observing these practices, you can help protect yourself and the people around you.

Alicia Trautwein is an Autism advocate, writer, motivational speaker, and dedicated mom of four. Alicia’s desire to advocate for Autism comes from her own autism diagnosis and that of her three children, niece, and brother. Her life’s mission is to educate on autism acceptance and change the world for future generations of autistic individuals.

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