Making a mask last found to be problem

Local | Mandy Zheng 28 Apr 2020

More than a third of Hong Kong adults have the habit of reusing masks, researchers from the Open University of Hong Kong have found.

According to a survey of 1,000 people conducted this month, 345 respondents said they reused masks, while more than 10 percent said they processed or sanitized the protection gear. Results also showed a mask is worn for an average of 2.5 days.

Gripped with fear of running out of masks, Hongkongers have been applying various methods to disinfect the gear, such as ironing, sunning, air drying, spraying ethanol, using sanitizer and ultraviolet treatment.

"This situation is really not ideal because masks should not be reused in any way," said research leader Linda Lee Yin-king. "They are designed as single-use products."

Lee, who is acting dean of the School of Nursing and health studies at Open University, said trying to disinfect masks could cause damage.

Also, she said, there are greater risks that people will be infected with the coronavirus while touching the surface of used masks.

Controversies over whether surgical masks can be reused involve politicians, medical experts and others amid a severe shortage.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Ann Chiang Lai-wan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong found herself in hot water when she recommended "steam sterilization" as a way to disinfect masks.

The Central Epidemic Command Center in Taiwan also endorsed steaming masks using a rice cooker, claiming one could be reused for up to five times.

But Lee noted experts have suggested a mask should not be worn for more than four hours.

She also recounted how one respondent in the survey had 50 masks and would wear seven in rotation until one became worn out.

Lee also urged people to pay more attention to help the elderly with the problem, such as providing them with affordable masks and advising them about the risks of reusing a mask.

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