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COVID-19 pandemic: Infection control expert offers tips on proper mask use

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West Lafayette, IN — Wearing a facial covering to protect against the spread of COVID-19 is effective only when the correct type of mask is worn properly and maintained, a Purdue University nursing professor is reminding the public.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone older than 2 wear a facial covering in public settings and when around others who don’t live in the same household – especially when maintaining 6 feet of space from other people isn’t feasible.

Joy Pieper, a clinical assistant professor of nursing in the Purdue College of Health and Human Sciences, teaches courses on health care history – including the 1918 influenza pandemic – and wartime influences on health care, according to an Aug. 16 university press release. Pieper, who also has expertise as a surgical nurse and has worked on infection control and patient safety initiatives, has several recommendations on proper mask selection, use and maintenance:

  • Find a mask that’s easy to wear.
  • Use a mask with the highest thread count and/or one with multiple layers. “Think of the Swiss cheese principle: You are trying to block anything from getting through consecutive holes. The more layers, the better.”
  • Make sure your mask covers both your mouth and nose.
  • When removing a mask, fold it in half so the outer part stays contained when the mask is stored in a pocket or plastic bag.
  • Clean your hands after removing a mask.
  • Don’t wear masks 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.”
  • Keep your mask dry and clean it after every use. “Wet fabric can transfer germs more easily than dry, so it’s advisable to carry replacement masks.”

Pieper adds: “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. They can be cleaned by machine or by hand according to the type of fabric.”

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