According to health officials, surgical masks are the most effective and widespread means to tackle the COVID-19 infection. However, these masks must be discarded after having used once due to which some scientists have began to question this recommendation citing environmental impacts.
Wearing a mask has been made mandatory in multiple parts of the world as coronavirus is still spreading continuously. But the cost and disposal methods of these masks have become an issue for the general public. Reusable cloth masks are also effective to stop the infection from spreading but they are heavier and a bit expensive. WHO has already stated, “Surgical masks must be used only once. After use, throw away the masks into a closed bin as soon as possible.” However, WHO had to permit reuse of decontaminated disposable masks when there was scarcity of crucial PPE in April.
The US FDA also permitted usage of hydrogen peroxide vapour for decontamination of N95 masks used by healthcare workers. Some other ways to enable reuse of disposable masks is to expose them to warm temperatures or UV radiation. However, these methods cannot be used the general public, said French microbiologist and member of Adios Corona, Denis Corpet.
One week method for reusing surgical masks
Adios Corona consists of a group of scientists that gives data about COVID-19 to the general public. It has recommended people to place their masks inside an envelope along with a properly mentioned date and let it stay as it is for a week. Corpet said, “Numerous researches indicate that most of the viruses on the masks die after a week.” His statement is supported by the evidence found in a study published in The Lancet that discovered only 0.1% virus detectable on the outer surface of the masks after a week.
This technique, however, is not recommended for people exposed to high viral loads and those in healthcare. Peter Tsai, the guy who invented N95 electrostatically charged filter material, said that the one week method is effective. But he recommended to leave the masks out in the open and not an envelope, and to repeat the process 5-10 times. There is another way of to reuse the disposable masks. Tsai stated that if they are heated in an oven at a temperature ranging between 70 and 75 degrees Celsius, the virus gets killed.
Washing the masks with or without detergent is not at all recommendable. Washing mask without detergent doesn’t get rid of the virus at all and washing with detergent erases the charges on the masks, reducing their effectiveness. French customers’ rights group UFC-Que Choisir performed an experiment in which some surgical masks were washed at a temperature of 60C. They then put these masks in a dryer and after drying pressed them with an iron. They performed the process for 10 times and found that the masks were still 90% effective to filter out particles with a size of 3-microns.
Researcher Philippe Vroman from French engineering university Ensait also found the same results. He also recommended swapping masks after every 4 hours and washing them rather than wearing the masks for several days continuously as most people do. He compared it with wearing an underwear. However, not all scientists share the same opinion. “Washing the mask at home might cause an auxiliary pollution and spread the infection if washing isn’t set properly,” said Kaiming Ye, top of the biomedical designing division at New York’s Binghamton University. Until more exploration is distributed on the issue, official exhortation from health specialists isn’t set to change.