LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Face shields, gloves, masks, all personal protective equipment (PPE), once only used by healthcare workers, have now been adopted by many to protect against COVID-19.
However, how we use each of them is not always the correct way, which affects their purpose: to protects us and others.
Dr. Valerie Briones-Pryor is on the frontlines as a doctor who sees COVID-19 patients every day. When she’s not at work, Dr. Briones-Pryor is like most of us, trying not to think about it, but that can be hard during a pandemic. For example, over the weekend she saw someone at the grocery store only wearing a face shield.
“I was trying to fight the urge to say something because I was off for the weekend, and I was with my son, and I was trying not to think about COVID, but I saw that, and it just made me cringe,” Dr. Briones-Pryor, who is the medical director of University of Louisville Health, added that face shields only offer some protection.
“It does cover your eyes...here on the COVID floor, we wear eye protection, which is important because the eyes, the mucous membranes of the eyes, is actually an avenue for folks, for droplets to come in, to catch COVID. So a face shield protects your eyes from that,” Dr. Briones-Pryor explained to Spectrum News 1. “But it’s open on the sides, and people say, ‘Well, the mask is also open on the sides.’ Well, if you’re wearing a good mask, it should be kind of sealed to your face.”
Therefore, if you wear a face shield, you still need to wear a mask.
So which is the best mask to wear? Some people wear the blue surgical masks, cloth masks, the neck gaiter, which made news over the summer on how much it protects against the virus, to name a few. Dr. Briones-Pryor said any mask is better than no mask
“Wearing the mask correctly is more important than the mask that you choose because I still see a lot of people wearing it under their nose and just covering their mouth,” she said but advised that you have to cover both. “Just covering your mouth is not enough.”
Regarding which type of mask is best to wear, she said, “At this point, there’s been so many kind of off-label, I’ll just call it, off-label studies that people have posted saying, ‘Well, we tested this mask versus this mask, versus this gaiter, and this protects you more than the other.’ And, at this point in time, I think folks just need to wear what’s comfortable for them. Obviously, the more layers, the better because that’s more protection, but I’m more concerned with people not wearing it the right way versus what kind of mask to wear.”
Also, with N95 masks in retail stores, some people have managed to get their hands, or faces rather, on those. However, Dr. Briones-Pryor said for an N95 to effectively work the way it should, it needs to fit your face and be worn the correct way. Otherwise, it’s not doing the job it was designed to do.
“If your N95 is comfortable; it’s probably either worn out or it’s not fitted to you because a brand new N95 on your face, for the first few hours, is not comfortable,” said Dr. Briones-Pryor. She said a properly worn N95 will leave a red mark usually on the bridge of the nose or under the eyes due to it being sealed tightly to the face.
Dr. Briones-Pryor explained she can only wear her N95 mask for three or four days in a row before she has to replace it because the rubber-band-like ties have broken or worn out. At that point, the mask is no longer sealed to the face, which turns it into a mask like most wear.
She also said she sees people in public wearing an N95 over a beard, which isn’t effective.
“There is no way you can get a seal if you have a beard that is sticking out of the N95,” Dr. Briones-Pryor said. So she recommends shaving facial hair if one wears an N95.
Another PPE item Dr. Briones-Pryor sees people misusing is what is meant to be a single-use item, gloves.
“Because you really don’t want your doctor or nurse, medical assistant, to be touching you with gloves that they have touched other people with, also. It’s the same concept when you go out in public, and you were wearing gloves,” she told Spectrum News 1.
She explained that people might be protecting themselves when they wear gloves, but they are picking up and then spreading germs to whatever they touch.
“And then the worst, I’ll see them take it off, and then put it in their purse, and I’m like, ‘Oh no! You’ve just contaminated your purse, or your pocket, or wherever you put those nasty gloves in.’ So I prefer that you keep hand sanitizer in your pocket and just wash your hands,” she said.
Lastly, another question Dr. Briones-Pryor said she gets a lot is if windows should be rolled down while driving with another person. Dr. Briones-Pryor said in a confined space where social distancing isn’t possible, wearing a mask is the most effective way to protect each other.
“Rolling down the windows probably isn’t gonna be helpful, unless it’s a nice day outside, and you want to enjoy the outside.”