Health reporter Haley Hernandez shows how healthcare workers are reusing masks and how you can too

HOUSTON – We hear a lot about PPE supplies running low. Now, a local hospital says they’re reusing their N95 masks to ensure they’ll have enough to keep them going through this pandemic.

Memorial Hermann is using specialized technology to sterilize these masks. They're collecting them at the end of shifts, sanitizing them to get them like-new and then re-issuing them to healthcare providers the next shift.

“They inspect every mask when it comes out looking for any kind of damage or stains so if there is anything it gets put separately into a bag and labeled as such,” said Caitlin McVey, RN, director of Clinical Projects at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. “It’s a high standard because they know their friends could be wearing them and that’s really important to them.”

The Bioquell machine used to sterilize the masks is not new, it's just not normally used for masks because those are usually discarded. Memorial Hermann said the machine typically cleans objects around the hospital like the toys in the children's areas.

N95 masks are the ones that should be strictly reserved for people working with coronavirus patients.

However, by now, everyone should be wearing some kind of face-covering when in public (especially grocery stores and pharmacies, according to the CDC).

So can you reuse your personal masks or should you dispose of them?

That depends on the kind you're using.

When sanitizing your cloth on homemade masks, it is easy since you can put them in hot water, wash them with a bleach solution, or even easier, throw them in the washing machine.

After a spin in the hot dryer, masks are ready for the next use and can be used over and over.

You can’t clean surgical masks.

If you’re using a surgical mask, (the kind that are just a bit stronger than a paper towel) the harsh cleaning agents can damage them and make them less effective.

You can reuse them more than once but should replace them frequently, using your best judgment on when to do so.

Sanitized masks can be carried around in a plastic bag for safekeeping and remember to clean hands before putting them on your face.

Remember, a mask is not a guaranteed protection that you won’t get sick.

You’re still supposed to avoid touching your face while wearing masks. According to the country’s top doctors, the mask probably does more to keep you from unknowingly spreading germs than getting sick from them.