Public health nurse recommends changing masks every four hours

November 22, 2020

A face mask has become a valuable commodity as persons seek to protect themselves and their loved ones from contracting the dreaded coronavirus COVID- 19.

In Jamaica, in keeping with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the Government has mandated that persons don the protective cover in public spaces, as part of the health and safety protocols, which include proper sanitising, handwashing and physical distancing. 

But to benefit from the protection that face masks provide it is important that people are wearing them correctly and are adhering to the guidelines on how to use and handle them.

Senior Public Health Nurse and In-service Coordinator at the Kingston and St. Andrew Health Department, Charmaine Vassell-Shettlewood, said that many persons are unwittingly putting themselves at risk by improper use of face masks.

She noted that masks, whether disposable or reusable, should not be worn for more than four hours at a time.

“Our mask is safe for only four hours, whether it is a cloth mask or a paper mask. After four hours, you must change your mask because you are breathing in what is on the inside of the mask and after four hours, the mask will no longer be effective,” she said.

“We notice that persons take their mask and they throw it down and then they take up the same mask two to three days after and they are wearing the same mask. But you are only covered with your mask for four consecutive hours,” she stressed.

The veteran public health nurse, who was addressing a recent meeting between Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton and youth leaders from Maverley, St. Andrew, has advised persons to travel with an extra mask.

“So each morning, when you are leaving your house, you should be leaving with two masks. At the end of four hours you change it and once you take off your mask you should be washing your hands or sanitising,” she noted.

Nurse Vassell-Shettlewood further recommended that persons avoid washing the cloth masks with bleach as this could cause an allergic reaction.

“We have found persons coming in with adverse reaction around the nose and the mouth. So we are recommending that you wash your mask with soap and water and then hang it to dry in the sun and then you can iron it on the wrong side and the right side and you are safe to wear your mask,” she said.

The veteran public health nurse reminded persons to always wash or sanitise their hands before putting on and after taking off the mask.

In addition, when removing from the face, the outside corners should be folded together, so that only the outside of the mask is exposed.

Persons are also reminded to keep the mask on the face the entire time they are in public, not to wear it around the neck or up on your forehead, and desist from touching it.

Masks should cover the nose and mouth and be properly secured under the chin. It must fit snugly against the sides of the face and allow for easy breathing.

If correctly worn, masks help slow transmission of COVID-19, by reducing exposure to droplets containing the virus, which is released when an infected individual breathes, speaks or coughs, and may also lower the chance of droplets entering one's mouth and nose.

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