Surgical masks may still provide protection even after they have passed their dates of expiration, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA on Tuesday posted a set of guidelines regarding face masks, surgical masks, and respirators on its website, adding new advice about how and when to use them.
"Face masks and surgical masks are designed to serve as protective barriers and may still offer some protection even if they are used beyond the manufacturer's designated shelf life or expiration date," the agency said. "The user should inspect all masks prior to use and, if there are concerns such as degraded materials (such as elastic) or visible tears, the product should be discarded."
That being said, the FDA does not suggest wearing a used disposable mask, which are supposed to be discarded after use.
"The [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] CDC does not recommend the reuse of disposable surgical masks that are intended to be used once. The FDA recognizes that there may be availability concerns with surgical masks during the COVID-19 public health emergency, but there are strategies to conserve surgical masks," the FDA guidance read.
N95 respirators, according to the FDA, are considered one-time-use products and should only be reused when there is a critical shortage of respirators, while ensuring that they are cleaned and disinfected using an approved decontamination method.
"Experimental and epidemiological data support community masking to reduce the spread" of the virus, the CDC said, recommending people wear face masks in public settings, especially when it is hard to maintain social distancing measures. "Individual benefit increases with increasing community mask use."
The CDC said that multi-layer cloth masks act as "source control" to block the release of exhaled respiratory particles into the environment, and provide "filtration for personal protection" by blocking virus particles from others.
"Adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation," the agency said.