Masks, Face Coverings, and You: Flattening the Curve

Dated: May 4 2020

Views: 176

As you’re probably aware, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released some new guidelines late last week regarding face masks. They’re now recommending that everyone (except for children under the age of 2) wear some kind of protective face covering in public.

Previous guidelines stated that only medical workers, care givers, or people displaying symptoms needed to wear face masks. Unfortunately, as infection rates spike - especially in urban areas - those measures haven’t been as effective at flattening the curve as the experts had hoped.

What’s prompted this change in the recommendations? Well, data is still coming in as scientists continue to observe the coronavirus. Recent studies have shown that people who show no symptoms are still able to carry and transmit the virus to others. This means that the virus can easily be spread in places where it’s hard to maintain distance from others, like pharmacies and grocery stores.

American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer Dr. Albert Rizzo wrote in an emailed statement: “The wearing of the masks by all individuals can give some degree of barrier protection from respiratory droplets that are coughed or sneezed around them. Early reports show that the virus can live in droplets in the air for up to one to three hours after an infected individual has left an area. Covering your face will help prevent these droplets from getting into the air and infecting others.”

Due to extensive shortages of PPE (personal protective equipment), surgical masks and N-95 respirators have been in short supply. The CDC specifies that medical-grade masks should be left for medical workers and first responders. Instead, they urge the public to use cloth masks that can be washed and reused. These masks should be worn, “whenever people are in a community setting, especially in situations where you may be near people.”

The efficacy of masks, especially homemade ones, is still being hotly debated in the scientific and medical communities, as there’s precious little data available on the subject. According to, The World Health Organization (WHO) said there is currently no evidence that wearing any kind of mask can prevent healthy people from being infected by COVID-19. So, it’s important to remember that these masks are primarily are to protect other people from you, not the other way around.

Fortunately, it’s a fairly easy protective measure to take. There are tons of tips and tutorials out there to help you fashion a mask out of ordinary household materials you’ve probably got lying around. Check out the CDC’s video tutorial, which features Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, creating a simple face covering in seconds using an old T-shirt and some rubber bands:

If you’re crafty and happen to have a sewing machine, YouTube has some great instructional videos on how to sew masks. A Google search reveals more tutorials and downloadable patterns. Styles range from simple pleated rectangles meant to mimic the shape of surgical masks to duck-billed masks with filter pockets.

If you decide to make some masks for yourself or your family, here are some important tips to keep in mind:

  1. Fit is important! Masks should conform to your face. There should be no gaping at the nose, sides, or bottom of the mask.
  2. But don’t forget that masks should still be breathable! Be sure to test your mask before you wear it out to ensure that you’ll be able to wear it comfortably in public.
  3. Heavyweight quilters cotton or cotton flannel (100% cotton) seem to be the preferred medium for most masks. Old t-shirts, scarves and bandanas will do in a pinch. Check out this Refinery 29 article on what materials scientists are recommending and why.
  4. Maintain your mask. Masks (as well as any clothing worn out in public) should be washed in hot water and tumble dried when possible. For face masks, regular laundry detergent should be sufficient for cleaning. Make sure they are dried completely, because dampness is the perfect environment for germs to thrive. Wash your hands before handling clean masks; store freshly cleaned masks in an airtight container, like a zip-sealed plastic baggie.
  5. DO NOT MICROWAVE your homemade face mask if it has a shaping wire in it! There are posts circling social media sites encouraging people to microwave their masks to decontaminate them. The best way to disinfect a mask is to wash it in hot water as described above. Remember, microwaves and metal don’t get along.
  6. If you decide to make masks to donate to medical facilities, be sure that A) they’re accepting donations and B) that you’re using a pattern and materials that fit any specifications they might have.

Of course, these new guidelines do not replace proven precautions, like self-isolating/self-quarantining or frequent hand washing. Wearing a mask doesn’t mean you should throw a party! Don’t disregard social distancing recommendations. Rather, it’s an added measure of protection for when you have to be in a place where you’ll be close to other people.

Stay safe, stay at home when you can, and keep washing those hands!

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