Atlanta ICU nurse shares tips for cleaning, handling masks

With proms canceled and parties on hold, Atlanta clothing designer Thesa Hardy is sewing for a new clientele these days, making free masks for Atlanta grocery store workers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending Americans wear non-medical cotton masks when out in public places.

Grady Hospital critical care nurse specialist Barbara McLean and critical care RN Lauren Skinner have designed a pattern for a mask hospital workers are wearing over their N95 respirators, to help them last longer.

McLean says wearing a cotton DIY mask like the CDC recommends will lower your risk you could unknowingly spreading COVID-19 to others, but it will not protect you from the virus.

SEE ALSO: CDC recommends use of cloth masks in public

"These aren't medical masks," McLean says. "These are just masks that prevent you from spraying your infected droplets at other people when you're talking and when you're breathing."

A new study in the medical journal The Lancet finds this new coronavirus can survive on the outside of a surgical mask for up to seven days.

So, McLean urges people to remove their masks carefully, trying not to touch the inside and outside of the mask, and wash them after each use.

"You may have sneezed or coughed, or people may have sneezed or coughed (on the outside of your mask)," McLean says. "So, when you take your mask off, you have to be very careful. So, first, you would clean or sanitize your hands. Then, you would untie the lower string and the upper string and, touching only the strings, take your mask off. That mask is now contaminated; this is a dirty mask."

MORE: University of Georgia 3-D printing face shields for healthcare workers

Toss the mask in the washer, using your regular detergent and setting the water at the highest temperature possible.

Then, McLean says, dry the mask on high heat.

If your mask has strings, like the mask she and Skinner have designed, untie the strings carefully, starting with the bottom strings, then tie the four strings in a loose knot before putting them in the wash.

"What I like to do, is, never touching the face of the mask, because that's contaminated, I'm going to take my strings through the back, like so," McLean says, tying the strings together.  "That will prevent me from having a problem and pieces of it getting stuck (in the washer).”

You could also place the mask in a lingerie bag before throwing it into the washer.

Inside Grady ICU, McLean wears a medical-grade N95 respirator, with is designed to filter out tiny viral particles.

She alternates between a respirator she wears while teaching and walking the halls of the hospital and another she reserves for going into the rooms of patients with COVID-19.

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"This is my sixth day with my mask," she says, holding up her blue N95.

McLean wears one of the cloth masks she and Skinner have designed over the top of her N95.

That helps keep the respirator clean, so she can wear it longer, she says.

At the end of her shift, McLean carefully removes the cloth mask and drops it into a plastic bag marked "dirty."

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Then, she removes her N95 and stores that separately.

McLean says she treated the first COVID-19 patient at Grady, who tested positive back in late February.

Today, she says, her Atlanta hospital is treating between 75 and 120 COVID-19 patients on any given day.

The staff, she says, is gathering protective supplies, bracing for an expected surge in infected patients the last week in April.

Know how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting Georgia

They are not yet overwhelmed, she says.

So stay home and, if you do go out, wear your mask.

"This is going to protect everyone from everyone else," McLean says, holding up the cloth mask.  "So, if we're all wearing them, we're all protected."

 If you're caring for of someone sick with COVID-19 at home, ask them to wear a surgical mask while you are in the room.

If you have an extra one, wear that one when you are around them.

RELATED:, FOX launches national hub for COVID-19 news and updates.