Face masks can remain contaminated with coronavirus for days, meaning wearers should treat their masks with care to prevent becoming infected with COVID-19, a US researcher warned.
Previous research has indicated that the coronavirus could remain infectious on surfaces for up to several days after first contact. While face masks are generally meant to be for single use in a medical setting, a shortage of personal protective equipment worldwide has many reusing their face masks, which could lead to infections.
“By design, the mask could really be contaminated, so we recommend that people think of their masks as a biohazard,” Professor Kelly Reynolds, the department chair of community, environment and policy at the University of Arizona Public Health College explained to US-based news ABC15 last week.
The exterior of the mask, which can prevent infected droplets from causing the wearing to catch coronavirus, could continue to be infectious for days after first contact, and washing the mask is problematic, Reynolds explained.
“You can’t just throw them in the washer machine – that would destroy their fibers,” he said.
Reynolds instead suggested that the best course of action would be to let the virus naturally die off, recommending users place their mask in a paper bag and wait seven days before using it again.
When removing the mask, it is also important to try to prevent moving potentially infectious particles onto your fingers, Reynolds explained. If the wearer must touch their mask with their fingers, then use the pinkie fingers to remove it, as these fingers are less likely to come into contact with your face.
“If you think about why we are wearing the mask in the first place, it is to prevent our exposure … Making sure you know how to properly care for your mask, and how to properly take it off and put it on is really important to reduce your risk of exposure,” Reynolds concluded.