Ready and protected

Karen Rideout, owner of the Bluefield Yarn Company, uses a homemade mask to protect herself as she works to get her business ready to open up

BLUEFIELD — An ongoing pandemic has made a seemingly simple item dubbed the N-95 mask one of the nation’s most sought-after products, but not everyone needs to wear one if they want to help check the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), a county health officer said.

People in the medical profession as well as first responders use the N-95 masks because it’s effective, Mercer County Health Officer Dr. Kathy Wides said.

“Those are the ones with the most effective filters, and one of the things that makes them work is that they’ve got an electrostatic charge in their middle membrane,” Wides said. “It’s like when you rub your feet on the carpet and touch your brother and give him a shock. That’s an electrostatic charge. You don’t want to compromise that charge, so the way you sterilize an N-95 has to preserve that charge.”

Some first responders such as the Bluefield Fire Department have built wooden boxes, lined with aluminum foil, which use ultraviolet (UV) light to sterilize masks. It is important not to let the mask touch metal because the contact gets rid of the charge.

“It really can’t touch metal,” Wides stated. “It has to be suspended by a plastic clothes pin or wooden dowel. Alcohol will also denature the electrostatic charge, but hydrogen peroxide won’t.”

Most members of the public do not need an N-95 mask, Wides said. Those masks should be saved for doctors, nurses, and first responders who could have direct contact with infected people.

“If you get a cotton mask, it’s the easiest thing to do because you can wash it,” she stated. “You can just take it off and throw it in the laundry.”

What the cotton masks do is help prevent the virus’s spread.

“You’re really protecting people from yourself. That’s the whole point of wearing a face mask,” Wides said.

“If you had somebody contaminate you and you scratched you nose, you’ve contaminated yourself.”

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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