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Should we be reusing face masks?

 Should we be reusing face masks?

What doctors and researchers from around the world have to say about the dwindling supply of PPE and masks

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a shortage of PPE supply has been seen all over the globe. All the countries, including Australia, have been forced to ration their medical and Personal Protective Equipment supplies.

The scenario

Health experts all over are saying that most major countries are facing this shortage in supply. Everyone, whether in the healthcare industry or not are being advised to wear masks and gloves when going out. UK scientists have said that the general public should be encouraged to wear masks if we have to stop the transmission of the disease.

What the experts have to say

Professor Trisha Greenhalgh (the University of Oxford) believes that masks are simple to make, cheap to buy, and potentially useful. A substantial impact on transmission levels can be achieved with just a little precaution. He added that the current shortage of masks and PPE supplies could be tackled and conquered quickly if efforts are made on repurposing manufacturing capacity.

Should we be reusing face masks?

Brendan Murphy – the Chief Medical Officer – advised people to stop wasting masks. The Commonwealth Department of Health is concerned about the shortage of supplies for the public, rationing them at the moment. A spokesperson suggested that the department’s focus is on getting more supplies instead of adopting just a recycling approach – a reason they haven’t asked the public to do so yet.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked people to keep wearing masks as this pandemic might be far from being over yet. Surprisingly, though, the WHO has not advocated the use of masks, however.

The solution

Researchers and scientists in New Zealand and Canada seem to have a solution for the shortages. They have suggested that, if healthcare front-liners decide to go with the two-step disinfection method, they might be able to use their PPE gear and masks up to five times.

Separate researchers from the University of Auckland (Australia) and the University of Waterloo (Canada) suggested that visibly degraded PPE should be discarded. For the other items, they have advised healthcare workers to store them for a period of 4-5 days till the virus dies on its own, before considering using it again. They also added that dry heat, UV rays, and certain chemicals could also be used to kill the virus and disinfect the equipment before reuse.

Bill Anderson (Professor of chemical engineering, University of Waterloo) said that if healthcare workers need to reuse the gear, the safest way would be to stop relying on a single method and to:

  • Let the equipment stay put for some time to kill the virus
  • Use other disinfecting means like UV/heat/chemicals to finish the process

He added that this two-step approach should prove highly useful if reuse were a necessity.

As the world’s best minds try to decide what works and what doesn’t, let’s hope the two-step approach will help front-liners stay safe from being infected themselves. Let’s hope that, amid the shortages, we are not only able to find a solution for this, but to recover from the pandemic once and for all.

Indrasish Banerjee

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