Frequently Asked Questions about PPE
To answer additional questions people have about PPE usage and safe practices at home, work, outings and protests, Last Mile crafted this FAQ as part of our educational resources.
Q: How do I prevent the contraction and spread of COVID-19?
A: For some basic steps in how to protect yourself and others, first read our Protest Safety Guide that outlines how you can stay safe during a protest, as well as how to stay safe at home and at work after attending a protest.
Q: If I had the choice, should I choose a KN95 or a surgical mask?
A: Short answer—choose the most protective mask that you will wear consistently.
The long answer is more complicated. If the currently available studies are correct, a surgical mask should provide you with as much protection against COVID-19 as a respirator (N95/KN95), or at least enough not to make a significant difference. But with a new disease, it is very hard to make absolute recommendations. Please see the pros and cons below, and make your decision accordingly.
The most important point is that a mask will only protect you if you wear it properly and consistently. A mask or respirator should cover your nose and your chin. It doesn’t work if it is on your forehead or your neck (or you position it so intermittently). This can potentially contaminate the inside of the mask, potentially exposing you to particulates.
Pros of KN95s —likely more protective from aerosolized viruses, such as COVID-19, and can be reused more easily.
Cons of KN95s —expensive, more uncomfortable to wear especially in hot/humid weather, difficult for people with asthma/COPD/other respiratory issues, requires proper fit to be more effective than a surgical mask.
Pros of surgical masks —cheaper to replace, easier to wear and tolerate, can be replaced more easily if soiled by sweat/dirt.
Cons of surgical masks —not as protective against aerosolized viruses, may require more frequent replacement from damage/soiling.
Note on cloth masks—Since cloth masks are not standardized, and can be made of cloth that is permeable even to large particles, or may not properly seal off the nose and mouth, cloth masks in general are not considerered as effective as surgical masks at protecting from aerosols, especially at close distances. However, they may afford some protection to others by catching the droplets you breathe out, so please wear one, or other face covering, if that’s your only option. (An expert consultation on the effectiveness of cloth masks)
Q: How do I make the choice for the right type of mask knowing that HCWs are in need of them also?
A: A final consideration—please remember that many HCWs are also people of color. There are black doctors, nurses, and hospital staff. Many of these people work in safety-net hospitals, which continue to have shortages of PPE supplies while they care for underserved communities. In addition to protesting take into account the needs of other essential workers as well, many of whom cannot leave their jobs to advocate for their needs and lives. Acquiring and distributing PPE such as surgical masks, goggles, and medical-grade equipment (eg, N95s, KN95s) to HCWs and other essential workers is a priority, so that these folks will be adequately protected when caring for protestors and their communities.
Q: How do I wear my mask?
A: Wash your hands for 20 seconds or sanitize before handling your mask. Hold the mask to your face and secure the earloops. Mold the stiff edge around your nose bridge to close gaps, so that the mask edge lays flat on your cheeks. Stretch the bottom edge over your chin. ( Surgeon's Tips: Stop Fogging & Improve Seal on Medical Face Masks #ORTips )
Q: What if I have to eat or drink while I have my mask on?
A: When removing your mask to eat or drink—if possible, move 6 feet away from others. Remove your mask completely, sanitize your hands, eat or drink quickly, sanitize again, and replace your mask. Lowering or raising your mask to eat or drink risks contaminating the inside of the mask with virus particulates on your skin.
Q: Can I remove my mask while I’m talking?
A: DO NOT remove your mask to talk. Protecting others from your respiratory droplets while talking is one of the major ways masks prevent transmission. We promise you that your friends can hear you!
Q: How do I make my surgical mask fit better?
A: There are lots of ways to improve how well your mask fits your face, which will improve how effectively it protects you from COVID-19. Here are some methods that may work. Some are easier to do, and some have better data to support their use.
Tape —you can buy surgical tape at any pharmacy. Place it where the mask meets the bridge of your nose to close any gaps.
Knots —tie a knot on the ear loop as close to the mask edge as possible. This turns it into more of a duckbill-styled mask. Tuck in the edges, and you are good to go! Video explanation here. Here is our one-sheet guide here by Nikki Sylienteng. )
Q: My ears hurt when I wear my mask. What should I do?
A: There are lots of solutions to this! Fix the Mask suggests using a safety pin to unite the two rubber bands in their DIY Mask Brace; you can also use this to pin the ear loops together at the crown of your head. Paper clips also work well for this. There are many caps and headbands now available with buttons positioned behind the ear, over which to hook the ear loops of your mask.
ALiEM is a great resource for many things in emergency medicine, including this: Trick of the Trade: Face mask hacks to make you more comfortable
Q: How can I save and clean my mask for reuse?
A: If your mask folds in half, fold and place in a paper bag. Store in a clean, dry place. You can also hang your mask.
Do not store in a closed plastic container — moisture will promote mold and bacterial growth.
Do not use bleach or lysol. These chemicals will deactivate the efficacy of the mask.
Time is the easiest — rotate masks daily to dry out the mask.
Q: What kind of mask should I wear to a protest?
A: Wear at minimum a surgical mask—if you do not have one, wear a face covering and be on the lookout for your friendly neighborhood organizations handing out surgical masks at protests.
Q: How else can I best protect myself against tear gas, pepper spray, or other aerosolized eye irritants?
A: Wear goggles if you have them or can acquire them. We like goggles with silicone siding, but regular goggles work well too—simply tape off the vent and any gaps on the sides. It’s best to have goggles that cover the eyebrows, as particulates can settle on them.
Q: Should I also be wearing a face shield?
A: We recommend goggles over a face shield for better protection from other airborne irritants such as tear gas. But any eye protection is preferable to none.
Q: What should I do if I am tear gassed or pepper sprayed?
A: There are many good resources for what solutions can be used, which you can choose at
your own discretion. We found that this video from Dr. Linda Shi posted on @mealsandbites to be useful. Clean water or an antacid solution are both good options.(Here is some more detailed information about how to proceed after interacting with tear gas or pepper spray from @danielleguldin. https://www.instagram.com/tv/CA0aQRdjus6/?igshid=fcschgrz2gpi)
The most important points are:
Do NOT touch your eyes with your hands. If you have a decontaminating wipe or access to soap and water, wash your hands and wipe down your face.
Wash your eyes out with lots of liquid from a bottle until your eyes are not burning.
If your eyes continue to burn after irrigating, or if you have any changes in vision, go to the nearest ER immediately.
Q: Should I get tested for COVID-19 after attending a protest?
A: We don't yet have specific recommendations on when asymptomatic people should get tested, or how often. However, NYC DOHMH now recommends testing should be offered to “...people who participated in street demonstrations or any other large gatherings during the past two weeks.” If you have a known contact at a protest that tests positive, or have been attending protests within the past two weeks, please consider contacting your doctor or scheduling an appointment to get tested.