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For Immediate Release
News Release # 2022-015
On Tuesday, Jan. 18, the Board of Commissioners held a Public Hearing on Required Face Coverings to receive feedback on reinstituting the mask mandate in Charles County. Following the public hearing on the emergency legislation, they voted 2-3 against Resolution 2021-21, which if passed would have required individuals to wear face coverings inside all indoor public spaces in Charles County. A supermajority vote (4-1 or 5-0) was required to have emergency legislation enacted.
County Attorney Wes Adams provided an overview of the proposed resolution. Charles County’s Health Officer Dr. Dianna E. Abney shared data and other relevant information regarding current COVID-19 statistics, including vaccination rates, case rates, hospitalizations, and deaths. Prior to the public hearing, County Commissioners held a virtual briefing with Dr. Maria Navarro, Charles County Public Schools Superintendent, and members of the Charles County Board of Education to provide an update on the status of COVID-19 in public schools.
Residents can watch the public hearing on Roku and Apple TV streaming devices by searching “Charles County Government” on Comcast 95 (SD), Verizon FIOS 10, or clicking here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its mask recommendations to align with what experts and many other people have long known: N95s and other respirator masks (when they are legitimate and fit properly) are more protective than most cloth face masks are. But these disposable respirator masks cost $1 to $3 apiece, and throwing them out as quickly as you would paper cups can add up, especially if you’re masking your entire family. You might also be concerned about the environmental cost of disposable masks, which are constructed from nonrecyclable materials. Fortunately, for most people and in most situations, you don’t need to chuck your mask after each use, or each day. Here are some answers to common questions about reusing your disposable mask.
How can I safely reuse a mask?
You can re-wear a mask after you have stored it in a paper bag for a few days, according to the CDC and multiple experts we’ve interviewed for our respirator guide. The agency provides a simple strategy for healthcare workers that involves rotating used masks in brown paper bags, a variation of which was employed during the N95 shortage in the early days of the pandemic. The coronavirus has an expected survival time of about 72 hours, so waiting for, say, five to seven days should be enough time for it to be inactivated.
Personally, to keep track, I have five masks on rotation and seven brown paper bags marked with the days of week, lined up on my windowsill. I place my mask in the appropriately labeled bag between uses during the day and at the end of it. After a week has passed, I either take the mask out to wear or move it to an eighth bag marked “Ready to Use.”
Is it really safe to reuse masks right now, considering how infectious Omicron is?
Yes, reusing a mask is safe. Masks work the same way on any variant—by trapping virus-containing particles in their layers. Also, the coronavirus is transmitted mainly through respiration; you’re less likely to catch it by touching an infected surface. That said, it’s safest, and just good hygiene, to handle your masks with care, touching only the elastics and washing your hands afterward.
What if my mask gets wet?
Moisture, even from your breath, degrades the mask little by little, and that process will probably hasten if you’re wearing the mask to work out at the gym or if you’re in a humid room or climate. If your mask is wet due to condensation from breathing, you can reuse it. Keeping those paper bags in a dry spot (ideally by a sunny window) can help enhance the viral-deactivation process, said Christopher Sulmonte, project administrator at the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit, a facility for patients with emerging infectious diseases. If your mask gets drenched (say, you get caught in the rain), throw it away.
Can I wash my mask or disinfect it with bleach or alcohol?
Though you may be tempted to rinse or wash your used disposable mask, even just to freshen it up, don’t try it. Getting the mask wet or agitating the mask with soap can damage the material.
You also shouldn’t attempt to disinfect your used mask with alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or other chemicals. A 2020 Emerging Infectious Diseases research letter reported that treating a disposable face mask with alcohol reduced the mask’s integrity and therefore its filtration efficiency. Hydrogen peroxide worked better, but the researchers applied it using a specialized machine, something you wouldn’t find outside a lab or hospital setting. Bleach or other disinfectants are a bad idea, too: Not only would they damage the mask, but “you don’t want to risk breathing in any disinfectant that remains on the respirator,” said Nikki Vars McCullough, a vice president at 3M’s Personal Safety Division.
What about treating the mask with heat or UV light?
That same paper published in 2020, amid the N95 shortage, found that dry-heat decontamination can be effective only one or two times, and UV for three times, before the mask’s fit and filtration may be compromised. Although these methods may be important in medical settings highly exposed to COVID-19 during a respirator shortage and in need of techniques to immediately zap away viruses, they require a strict protocol that’s impossible to follow for most people outside of a healthcare setting. You’re better off using the paper-bag method. “It’s a lot easier, less expensive, and there’s less of a chance that you’ll be hurting the mask,” said Sulmonte.
When is it time to throw out the mask?
“There’s no hard and fast rule,” said Sulmonte. The CDC paper-bag directive suggests discarding a disposable N95 mask after five uses. But that guideline was meant for workers in a healthcare setting. For everybody else, that may not be necessary. A mask is still wearable if its elastic bands continue to create a secure fit and the material looks clean and provides good airflow. (Dust, pollen, air pollutants, makeup, skin oils, and, yes, inactivated virus eventually accumulate and clog up the filter.)
Also think about where you’ve worn the mask and for how long. Someone who wears a mask in the subway every day, for example, may need to throw it out sooner than someone who wears theirs to the grocery store every once in a while. Whatever the circumstances, switch to a fresh mask if yours is dirty, thinning, damaged, or hard to breathe through, or if it no longer maintains a good seal.
Is there any situation where I should throw it out after one use?
Yes! Assuming replacements are readily available, Sulmonte advises throwing a mask away if you’ve been in a place where high virus exposure is expected—for instance, if you’ve been interacting with a COVID-19–positive person.
- Masks are FREE
- Masks are limited to one per person
- Visit ccplonline.org for office hours and locations
- You do not need a library card to pick up masks
To protect yourself and others from COVID-19, wear the mask with the best fit, protection, and comfort for you.
Correct and consistent mask use is a critical step everyone can take to prevent getting and spreading COVID-19. Masks work best when everyone wears them, but not all masks provide the same protection. When choosing a mask, look at how well it fits, how well it filters the air, and how many layers it has.
Two important ways to make sure your mask works the best it can
1. Make sure your mask fits snugly against your face.
2. Pick a mask with layers to keep your respiratory droplets in and others’ out.
A mask with layers will stop more respiratory droplets getting inside your mask or escaping from your mask if you are sick.
For more information on wearing a mask and personal protective equipment in healthcare workplaces, see Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Healthcare Personnel During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic.
Choose a mask with a nose wire
- A nose wire is a metal strip along the top of the mask
- Nose wires prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask.
- Bend the nose wire over your nose to fit close to your face.
Use a mask fitter or brace
- Use a mask fitter or brace over a disposable mask or a cloth mask to prevent air from leaking around the edges of the mask.
Check that it fits snugly over your nose, mouth, and chin
- Check for gaps by cupping your hands around the outside edges of the mask.
- Make sure no air is flowing from the area near your eyes or from the sides of the mask.
- If the mask has a good fit, you will feel warm air come through the front of the mask and may be able to see the mask material move in and out with each breath.
Add layers of material
- Use a cloth mask that has multiple layers of fabric.
- Wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask.
- The cloth mask should push the edges of the disposable mask against your face.
Knot and tuck ear loops of a 3-ply mask
- Knot the ear loops of a 3-ply face mask where they join the edge of the mask
- Fold and tuck the unneeded material under the edges
- For instructions, see the following https://youtu.be/GzTAZDsNBe0external icon.
Other things to consider
Certain types of facial hair, like beards, can make mask fitting difficult. People with beards can do one or more of the following:
- Shave their beards.
- Trim their beards close to the face.
- Use a mask fitter or brace.
- Wear one disposable mask underneath a cloth mask that has multiple layers of fabric. The second mask should push the edges of the inner mask snugly against the face and beard.
Masks designed for people with beards are being evaluated, and information will be provided when it becomes available.
Combine two disposable masks
- Disposable masks are not designed to fit tightly and wearing more than one will not improve fit.
Combine a N95 or KN95 mask with any other mask
- Only use one N95 or KN95 mask at a time.
DO choose masks that
Have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric
Completely cover your nose and mouth
Fit snugly against the sides of your face and don’t have gaps
DO NOT choose masks that
Are made of fabric that makes it hard to breathe, for example, vinyl
Have exhalation valves or vents which allow virus particles to escape
Not recommended: Evaluation of face shields is ongoing, but effectiveness is unknown at this time.
Check to be sure the mask fits snugly over the nose and mouth and under the chin and that there are no gaps around the sides
Do NOT put a mask on children younger than 2 years old
Cold weather gear
Wear your scarf, ski mask or balaclava over your mask
Scarves, ski masks and balaclavas are not substitutes for masks
People with beards
Certain types of facial hair, like beards, can make mask fitting difficult. Masks that fit well protect you better. To have a better fit, people with beards can shave their beards or trim their beards close to the face.
Other ways to improve fit:
Use a mask fitter or brace.
Wear one disposable mask underneath a cloth mask that has multiple layers of fabric. The second mask should push the edges of the inner mask against the face and beard.
For people with beards that are not trimmed close to the face, masks may fit loosely around the beard. However, people with beards should still wear a mask. Masks designed for people with beards are being evaluated, and information will be provided when it becomes available.
Certain groups of people may find it difficult to wear a mask, including some children 2 years and older and people of any age with certain disabilities.
Appropriate and consistent use of masks may be challenging for some, including people with certain disabilities. Challenges may be caused by being sensitive to having material on the face, difficulty understanding why wearing a mask is protective (such as those with an intellectual disability), or having difficulty controlling behavior.
When determining if children and people with certain disabilities should wear a mask, assess their ability to
- Wear a mask correctly
- Avoid frequent touching of the mask and their face
- Limit sucking, drooling, or having excess saliva on the mask
- Remove the mask without assistance
For people who cannot wear or safely wear a mask because of a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.), consider reasonable accommodation for workers who are not fully vaccinated, who are unable to wear a mask, or who have difficulty wearing certain types of masks because of a disability.
If you are caring for children and people with certain disabilities who may need assistance with wearing masks, you should
- Ask your healthcare provider for advice to help the person you are caring for to wear a mask and ask for alternative ways of reducing transmission risk.
- Ensure proper mask size and fit.
- Remove their mask before sleeping, napping, when they may fall asleep (such as in a car seat or stroller), and in situations when continual supervision is not possible.
- Consider prioritizing wearing a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, particularly when indoors. Masks may not be necessary when you and the person you are caring for are outside and away from others, or with other people who live in the same household. However, some localities may have mask mandates while out in public and these mandates should always be followed.
Masks should not be worn by:
- Children under 2 years
- A person with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, for reasons related to the disability
- A person for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty as determined by the workplace risk assessmentexternal icon
People who are deaf or hard of hearing and those who will interact with people who are hearing impaired
If you interact with people who rely on reading lips, you may have difficulty communicating while wearing a mask.
- Consider wearing a clear mask or a cloth mask with a clear panel.
- Generally, vinyl and non-breathable materials are not recommended for masks. However, for ease of lip-reading, this is an exception to that general guidance.
- If you are not able to get a clear mask, consider using written communication, closed captioning, or decreasing background noise to make communication possible while wearing a mask that blocks lips.
People with certain underlying medical conditions
Most people with underlying medical conditions can and should wear masks.
- If you have respiratory conditions and are concerned about wearing a mask safely, discuss with your healthcare provider the benefits and potential risks of wearing a mask.
- If you have asthma, you can wear a mask. Discuss with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about wearing a mask.
Mask use and carbon dioxide
- Wearing a mask does not raise the carbon dioxide (CO2) level in the air you breathe.
- Cloth masks and surgical masks do not provide an airtight fit across the face. The CO2 escapes into the air through the mask when you breathe out or talk. CO2 molecules are small enough to easily pass through mask material. In contrast, the respiratory droplets that carry the virus that causes COVID-19 are much larger than CO2, so they cannot pass as easily through a properly designed and properly worn mask.
How to Wear
Wear a mask correctly and consistently for the best protection.
- Be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before putting on a mask.
- Do NOT touch the mask when wearing it. If you have to touch/adjust your mask often, it doesn’t fit you properly, and you may need to find a different mask or make adjustments.
Do wear a mask that
Covers your nose and mouth and can be secured under your chin.
Fits snugly against the sides of your face.
How NOT to Wear a Mask
How to take off a mask
Carefully, untie the strings behind your head or stretch the ear loops
Handle only by the ear loops or ties
Fold the outside corners together
Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing and wash hands immediately after removing
Reusable masks should be washed as soon as they become dirty, or at least once a day. If you have a disposable face mask, throw it away after wearing it once. Always and wash your hands after handling or touching a used mask.
Using a washing machine
-Include your mask with your regular laundry.
-Use regular laundry detergent and the appropriate settings according to the fabric label.
-Wash your mask with tap water and laundry detergent or soap.
-Rinse thoroughly with clean water to remove detergent or soap.
Dry Your Mask
-Dry your mask completely in a warm or hot dryer
-Hang your mask in direct sunlight to dry completely. If you cannot hang it in direct sunlight, hang or lay it flat and let it dry completely.
Store wet or dirty masks in a plastic bag
If your mask is wet or dirty from sweat, saliva, make-up, or other liquids or substances, keep it in a sealed plastic bag until you can wash it. Wash wet or dirty masks as soon as possible to prevent them from becoming moldy. Wet masks can be hard to breathe through and are less effective than dry masks.
Store masks that are not wet or dirty in a paper bag
You can store your mask temporarily to reuse later. Remove your mask correctly and wash your hands after touching a used mask. Keep it in a dry, breathable bag (like a paper or mesh fabric bag) to keep it clean between uses. When reusing your mask, keep the same side facing out.
If you are taking off your mask to eat or drink outside of your home, you can place it somewhere safe to keep it clean, such as your pocket, purse, or paper bag. Make sure to wash or sanitize your hands after removing your mask. After eating, put the mask back on with the same side facing out. Be sure to wash or sanitize your hands again after putting your mask back on.