How many coronavirus masks should you have?

coronavirus masks
Photo via Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

More than 30 states now require people to wear facial coverings when they leave their homes to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, as other countries around the world that required face masks and social distancing measures early in the pandemic have been the most successful at slowing the spread of the disease. But how many coronavirus masks should you actually have in your possession?

Though there are many kinds of masks, including disposable surgical masks and N95 masks, the most common are cloth masks that help trap respiratory droplets that are emitted when the wearer talks, exhales, coughs, or sneezes. In addition to being easy to purchase or to make out of tightly woven cotton materials such as T-shirts, bandanas, or sheets, another benefit to cloth masks is that they can easily be washed and reused.

Johns Hopkins Medicine says that it’s a good idea for people to own at least two masks, so you’ll always have a fresh mask if one is in the laundry.

The website also implores people to consider their lifestyle and schedule, when assessing how many masks they should own. Though two masks might be sufficient for those who rarely leave their homes except for a trip to the pharmacy, grocery store, or doctor, essential employees may want to stockpile more to ensure there’s always a freshly-laundered one on hand.

How often should you change coronavirus masks?

Some medical professionals believe that you should clean your mask after every wearing to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus or other germs. However, in lieu of standard recommendations, others believe that there may be more leeway involved.

Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told Today back in April that while there are “no hard and fast recommendations,” it’s generally safe to wear the same cloth mask multiple times. He said a “weekly wash should be fine if it’s not soiled.”

“You shouldn’t be using them all that frequently,” Schaffner noted. “You’re only going out to the pharmacy and supermarket.”

Joseph Fair—a virologist, epidemiologist, and NBC News contributor—recommends washing after every two uses. “Make more than one so you can wash them regularly and not be left without one when you need it,” Fair advised.

It also goes without saying that anyone who has been in the presence of someone symptomatic should clean their mask immediately.

Though there are no best practices for cleaning cotton masks, bandannas, or face scarves, Schaffner recommended simply throwing them in with the rest of your laundry and using hot water. For an added peace of mind, you can also tumble dry your masks on a high setting after washing.

Those sensitive to perfumes may want to consider using a non-scented laundry detergent. Alternately, you can also hand-wash your coronavirus mask by scrubbing with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds and then drying on high heat. When not in use, it’s advised that you store clean masks in a safe, clean place.

Sources: John Hopkins Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Today

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