LEHI — Masks have quickly become part of our regular attire and after three weeks of rising COVID cases, it's more important than ever to wear them. Knowing the proper way to wash and wear a mask is critical.
"Just eat it, 'cause they're yummy!" Bill Fowler tells his daughter as they garden vegetables in their yard. He is doing his best to keep his family safe by spending quality time at home together during the pandemic.
But when he does venture outside of his home, he's always prepared with a clean mask in his car. "I take them out of the washer and I throw them in the glove box," he described.
"And then once I've used them, they go down here," he said, pointing to the pocket on the side of his car door.
He treats his masks just like his other laundry. "They're really no different than socks or underwear," Fowler explained. "For the most part, we don't grab dirty ones and put them back on."
"Will you grab me your masks?" he asked his three kids.
Every Monday, Fowler washes and dries their masks on high heat to kill germs and prevent bacteria growth. Between Fowler, his wife and kids, the family owns about 25 cloth masks. This allows them to have a clean one on hand each day.
Intermountain Healthcare's Michelle Matheu, an infectious disease physician, anticipates Utahns will be wearing masks for a while. "I anticipate this to be the new norm for a long period of time, especially now that we are going to enter into the fall and the winter; we will see rise in respiratory infections, and this will make it even more important," she said.
Matheu says cotton, as recommended by the CDC, is the best material for a mask. "The thicker the material it is, the more it's going to trap your secretions," she said. "But you don't want to make it too thick because otherwise you can suffocate and not breathe properly."
For those who don’t have access to a washing machine, Matheu said they can create a bleach solution and soak their masks for five minutes.
Matheu tells people to avoid touching or adjusting the outside of their mask when wearing it. "The outside of your mask is considered to be dirty, so you don't want to put it on a surface and then contaminate the surface," she said.
She recommends people put their mask in a plastic bag in between running errands to keep the inside of the mask clean. Matheu told KSL people should avoid putting their masks in their purses to prevent cross-contamination.
She also encourages people to avoid pulling their mask under their chin so they don’t contaminate their face with the outside of the mask.
Matheu reminds people of the importance of sanitizing their hands before touching their masks. "You should only grab from the loops," when taking a mask on and off, she said.
While ultraviolet light can kill viruses, Matheu said leaving a mask in the sunlight on a car dashboard is not a proven method for sanitizing a mask. Rather, she encourages people to wash their masks with their other regular laundry.
She says the proper fit of a mask is most important. "So you have to make sure it's covering your nose, your mouth, and that it makes a good seal around your face," she said.
Bill shopped around until he found a mask he liked. He said it made all the difference when he found something that was both comfortable and breathable. "I'm way more likely to do it," he said. "And for the most part, now, I don't touch it."
Like anything else, Fowler said there is a learning curve to wearing a mask. "I just think with time people are going to find the fit that fits them, the brand they like, the style they like that identifies their personality," he explained.
Fowler says it's worth it to keep his family healthy. "This is something so small that I can do and if somehow that's helping someone else, why wouldn't want to do that?" he said.
Despite many feeling "mask fatigue," Matheu says she cannot stress the importance of wearing a mask enough, in addition to hand washing, maintaining physical distance, and staying home when someone is sick. "We have to do our part. We have to keep others safe," she said.
Intermountain Healthcare encourages people to avoid wearing surgical masks and N-95 masks to reserve those critical supplies for health care professionals. They are still accepting donations for cloth masks. Volunteers can drop them off in the green bins located outside of Intermountain Healthcare hospitals.