Health Matters: Getting serious about face masks
As we head into the fall and winter, it seems as if we might be wearing masks for a good while longer. In fact, it could be argued that the only thing between us and an outbreak is maintaining good habits — including handwashing, distancing and careful use of masks — consistently.
When we want to ensure consistency in the hospital setting, we build a process and put all of the important components within easy reach. It becomes far easier and faster to complete the process in the safest and most effective way every time. You can use these same ideas to make effective hand cleaning and mask use second nature.
The first piece of establishing an effective process is supplies. How many masks do you have per person? If it is just two or three, now is the time to get more. Many retailers are selling masks in packs of five. Different colors and patterns make masks more fun to wear, especially for kids. If you can't choose whether to wear a mask or not — we are definitely wearing them — at least you can choose which one to put on. Aim to keep one pump of hand sanitizer for your home and one for each car.
Next, position your supplies so they are right where you need them. When we are in a rush, it's harder than you might think to take two steps out of our way. Keep your clean masks, sorted by size, right by the door in a basket or on a hook. Your home hand sanitizer should be placed by the door. Car hand sanitizer bottles fit nicely into the pocket on the door or in the center console.
As you leave the house, sanitize your hands and place your clean mask in a clean place, like your pocket or handbag. Use your car sanitizer to disinfect your hands again when you arrive at your destination, just before you put your mask on. Keep your mask for the entire duration of your trip or errand. Of course, distance to the greatest extent possible, and try to limit face-to-face interactions to 10 minutes or less.
When you return to your car, take your mask off, fold it with the outside in, and sanitize your hands. You can leave the mask on the seat or floor of the car until you arrive home, but don't forget to bring your mask inside to be cleaned. If you're tired from a long day, it could be tempting leave the mask by the door, where it may get mistaken for a clean one. You may find it helpful to put a bin for dirty masks by the door as well. Sanitize again after you put your dirty mask in the dirty mask bin.
Wash your masks in hot water separately or with other clothes and tumble dry on high heat. Rather than using a dryer, you can also hang masks to dry in the sun. UV light, found in the sun's rays, is a great disinfectant. Masks are returned to your door-side basket or hook and are ready for next time.
"Officializing" your mask process — in the same way hospitals create their highly reliable processes — will help you stick to and even improve your mask-wearing habit. If we all do a good job cleaning our hands, masking, and distancing, we can maintain the low number of COVID-19 cases we have seen in southern Vermont and its nearby towns.
Donna Barron, RN, is Southwestern Vermont Medical Center's infection preventionist.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.