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September 28, 2020

A Comprehensive Guide to Properly Disposing Your PPE

Before You Dispose of Your PPE, Make Sure You Educate Yourself on Properly Handling and Getting Rid of it

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is used by healthcare professionals who are in charge of taking care of COVID-19 patients. It is crucial that they wear this equipment to protect themselves as well as the patients they are taking care of. Most consumers don’t need PPE unless they are taking care of friends or family members who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. However, many people have trouble distinguishing PPE from regular face masks and gloves.

If you do end up acquiring PPE for whatever reason, it is crucial that you learn how to properly dispose of it. In our latest articles, we are reviewing different types of PPE as well as effective ways for disposing of it. 

Different Types of PPE

Let’s review different types of PPE people wear when treating COVID-19 patients

Healthcare workers must wear PPE when treating patients to protect themselves and anyone they encounter outside of the hospital.

COVID-19 personal protective equipment for healthcare workers typically include:

  • Goggles or a full face shield
  • N95 face respirator or face mask
  • Gown
  • Nonsterile gloves

Let’s explore each piece of equipment as well as how it helps protect its wearer. 

Eye Protection

Medical personnel typically wear a face shield or goggles when treating patients who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. This is because the virus can infect someone if it gets into their eyes. For instance, talking, coughing, or sneezing near someone who isn’t wearing eye protection puts them at risk of contracting the virus. In fact, numerous people who were not wearing eye protection have contracted the virus after working near patients with COVID-19. 

Rubbing your eyes or touching your face also puts you at risk of contracting the virus. That’s why numerous health officials are advising people against touching their faces, even when wearing a mask. The American Academy of Ophthalmology even recommended contact wearers to switch to glasses since they have to touch their face so often. 

Face Respirator or Medical Mask

You will see most medical workers wearing N95 masks when taking care of patients diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Medical personnel typically wear N95 respirators to protect themselves from the virus. N95 masks can filter out at least 95% of particles — hence the number 95 attached to the name. Before receiving a respirator, a healthcare worker must first be cleared for it. This is because some medical conditions make it difficult to breathe while wearing a respirator. Workers must also undergo a fit test and seal check to ensure the respirator fits properly over their face. 

Medical masks fit more loosely than respirators. Unlike N95 respirators, they do not require any fit or seal tests. However, they also do not filter out small particles effectively. They do not guard against leakage either. 

Right now, N95 masks are only recommended for health care workers. 

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Gown

Health care professionals who are tasked with taking care of COVID-19 patients also need to wear long-sleeved nonsterile, disposable patient isolation gowns. This can protect the wearer as well as any other medical personnel or patients they encounter, as the wearer will need to change gowns when caring with patients who do not have COVID-19. The CDC has also recommended wearing aprons over these gowns when taking care of COVID-19 patients. If you aren’t a health care worker taking care of patients, you do not need to wear a gown. 

Gloves

Medical workers and people taking care of COVID-19 patients need to wear gloves. 

Medical workers typically wear disposable gloves when caring for patients with COVID-19. Some consumers have also started wearing gloves when going to the grocery store or making a deposit at the bank. 

However, gloves can sometimes create a false sense of security for people. Even when wearing gloves, you need to avoid touching your face and stay at least six feet away from others. Other than cleaning surfaces or handling items owned by someone who has the virus, the general public does not usually need to use gloves.

Now that we have learned about different types of PPE that medical workers — and some regular consumers — wear, it’s time to learn how to dispose of these items properly. 

How to Dispose of PPE

We teach you the proper methods for disposing of different types of PPE

Disposing PPE is usually quick and easy. 

When worn and removed properly, most types of PPE can be worn multiple times before being thrown away. But if your equipment becomes soiled or damaged, you will need to remove it. Once it is time to dispose of the PPE, hospitals typically require workers to throw it in a designated waste bin. 

Hospitals also have a comprehensive guideline on properly disposing of PPE. Most of them will double bag the waste containing PPE before labeling it as COVID-19. Once that is finished, they will transport the waste to a facility that is able to properly dispose of the material permanently. 

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If you need to dispose of a mask or a pair of gloves, you should place them in a bag before throwing them in the trash. After removing PPE, workers must thoroughly wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. The same goes for non-medical personnel who are disposing of their PPE. This reduces the risk of transmission from handling PPE. 

FAQ About Wearing and Disposing PPE

We answer all of your questions about properly using PPE

Some people still carry various misconceptions about PPE.

There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding PPE, face masks, and handling the spread of the virus in general. It’s important to use only reliable sources when researching news on the coronavirus as well as how people are fighting it. If you are misinformed or uneducated on certain aspects of the pandemic, you can make it hard for people attempting to help fight its spread. But it’s okay to have questions. That’s why we’ve assembled an FAQ on protecting yourself during the pandemic. 

What is the most effective mask that consumers can wear?

Cotton face masks featuring a dual layer are typically best for regular consumers. You can even make a cloth mask from a shirt with ear loops. If you do make your own mask, you need to make sure it fully covers both your nose and mouth. Even when you wear it, you need to avoid touching your face. 

As for medical masks and N95 respirators, you can leave those to the healthcare workers who are directly working with COVID-19 patients. 

Do I need to wear goggles?

Goggles or face shields can add extra protection. However, you should not wear them in place of your mask as the virus can still get through your nose and mouth. 

Can I reuse my mask?

Some masks are okay for reusing, while others should be disposed of after using once. 

Cloth masks are reusable. But you need to clean it everytime time after wearing it. You can wear disposable masks multiple times, but they must not be clearly soiled. When you remove your disposable mask, you need to avoid touching its surface. The ear loops attached to the mask should make this task a little easier. After removing it, you will need to store it in a safe storage spot. For instance, many nurses at Johns Hopkins place their masks in paper bags to let their masks air out.

Do I really have to wear a mask? It’s uncomfortable. 

Most stores require you to wear a mask when entering them. Some cities have even enforced mask wearing. If the mask is uncomfortable, you can practice wearing it at home. This will help you get used to the mask. 

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What are some reliable news sources I can check for updates on the pandemic?

When it comes to staying up to date on the latest COVID-19 news, you can rely on the World Health Organization (WHO). The CDC, FDA, and NIH, are also important sources to check-in with in regards to the pandemic. 

Some people rely on social media to get their news about the pandemic. But it’s easy to spread false information through social media. So your best bet is to stick with the aforementioned sources. 

PPE is typically reserved for medical workers who are treating COVID-19 patients. Unless you are taking care of someone with COVID yourself, you should be able to manage with a cloth face mask, gloves, and hand sanitizer. Some people wear face shields in addition to their masks. While a face shield might offer extra protection against the virus, it is not effective enough to wear without a mask. 

Following CDC guidelines on combating the spread of the coronavirus is crucial for protecting you and your loved ones. While we all miss our “normal” way of living, we have to put that on pause for now. How have you been staying safe during the pandemic? Let us know in the comments!

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