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Should you reuse an N95 mask? Here’s what to keep in mind if you decide to reuse it

HyVee in Springfield hands out N95 respirators through federal program.
HyVee in Springfield hands out N95 respirators through federal program.(KY3)
Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 5:39 AM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - You can now get three free N95 masks at some US pharmacies from the federal government.

HyVee in Springfield started handing them out on Monday. Walgreens expects to start doing the same in some stores in the US on Friday.

Unlike cloth masks, N95 respirators do not have a long shelf life. They aren’t washable and if you get them dirty or wet, it’s time to toss them in the trash. That doesn’t mean they have to be single-use like surgical masks.

“There’s an absolute recommendation that you don’t use it more than five times,” says Aaron Schekorra with the Springfield Greene County Health Department. “And really, it’s about evaluating the integrity of that mask after multiple uses. The mask is not going to be able to do its job as effectively. It’s not going to create a proper seal around your face, it’ll have gaps, the elastic is not going to have the integrity that it needs to keep it on your face properly.”

If you chose to reuse an N95 respirator, the Centers for Disease Control recommends storing it in a dry place where it can air out for a day or two, like in a brown paper bag. Avoid storing it in an air-tight container. Whether or not you should reuse an N95 also depends on how long you wear it each time.

“That’s gonna be in circumstances probably where you’re not wearing it for like a whole day, five days in a row,” says Schekorra. “At that point, it’s likely not going to be able to be used for that extended period. But you can get a few uses out of them.”

Schekorra also says if you need a higher quality solution, but don’t want to create quite so much waste, wearing two cloth masks at once is still a good solution.

“You know, it’s a disposable mask,” says Schekorra. “You may be able to get a few uses out of them, but they’re not meant to be your permanent mask.”

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