Facial masks 101: everything you need to know, including how to create your own


As cases of the new coronavirus continue to increase, there has been a lot of public talk about preventive measures. The basics include proper hand washing, avoiding touching your face, social distancing, and disinfecting heavily used household surfaces.

But there has been a lot of back and forth about the need and the effectiveness of face masks. Salon has compiled a mask FAQ guide that includes the CDC’s most recent recommendations, as well as information on supply chain issues for healthcare professionals.

Do I have to wear a mask in public?

Yes, you should, but the message has not always been clear about this. Shortly after the first cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed in the United States, pharmacy workers began to report that their shelves had not been cleaned of hand sanitizer, disposable gloves and face masks . At the time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to wear a mask unless they are sick, to care for a sick person who could not wear one, or to work in the care of health.

On February 29, American general surgeon Jerome Michael Adams tweeted plainly that people should “STOP BUYING MASKS! “

“They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #Coronavirus,” Adams wrote. “[Householdshealthcareproviderscannotcausethemtocareforsickpatientsaswellasendangercommunities!”[Butifhealthcareproviderscan’tgetthemtocareforsickpatientsitputsthemandourcommunitiesatrisk!”[Maissilesprestatairesdesoinsdesanténepeuventpaslesameneràsoignerdespatientsmaladescelalesmetainsiquenoscommunautésendanger! »[Butifhealthcareproviderscan’tgetthemtocareforsickpatientsitputsthemandourcommunitiesatrisk! »

But then came a big shift in public orientation.

On April 3, President Donald Trump announced that the CDC is now recommending that everyone in the United States wear “cloth face covers in public places where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” as pharmacies or grocery stores.

Trump made it clear at the press conference that the guidelines were voluntary.

“You can do it, you don’t have to do it,” he said. “I choose not to do it. “

But under new CDC guidelines, these increased protections are a way to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and who are asymptomatic to pass it on to others.

Is there still a shortage of masks for health professionals?

Absolutely. It is well known that there is a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health professionals and other front-line workers. The New York Times has described it as “a war without ammunition,” because doctors are forced to reuse single-use N95 masks – highly protective respirators common in hospitals – for weeks, putting themselves at risk.

And while institutions across the United States continue to find small reserves of PPE in truly bizarre places, such as in the crypt of the National Cathedral, mask makers say they are at full capacity and are at months of being able to handle increased production. Meanwhile, as ProPublica reports, price hikes have started and, as states must outbid for supplies, New York State is now purchasing masks at 15 times the normal price.

Does the invocation of the Defense Production Act mean that there will soon be more masks?

In the United States, health care professionals are calling for a coordinated deployment of the Defense Production Act, the Korean War law that authorizes the federal government to increase the manufacturing and distribution of essential medical supplies, including PPE. But Trump argued for weeks that invoking the DPA was only a last resort, to be deployed only if private industry could not rally and pivot in this time of crisis, despite many experts from the supply chain claiming it was shortsighted.

“We have used it many times, very powerfully,” Trump said in a press briefing. “And often you don’t have to do the act, you just say, ‘Look, if you don’t do that, we’re going to use the act.’ And we’ve done a great job with it. “

In recent weeks, Trump has moved on to a piecemeal invocation of elements of the DPA, such as dictating production and delivery schedules for private companies.

Last week, he tried to stop 3M, the company behind Post-its and Scotch tape – which also currently produces 35 million masks a month in the United States – from shipping masks outside the country. country. 3M responded that this would have serious “humanitarian implications” and that international retaliation would likely result in a net loss of masks available from American health care professionals.

“Ceasing all exports of US-made respirators would likely cause other countries to fight back and do the same, as some have done before,” the company said. “If that were to happen, the net number of respirators available to the United States would actually decrease. It is the opposite of what we and the Administration, on behalf of the American people, are both looking for. “

Trump reached an agreement with 3M on Monday. The company will produce an additional 55.5 million N95 masks per month, while being allowed to continue exporting masks to Canada and Latin America amid the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Politico, what many heads of state recommend is that Trump use “the broad authority of the DPA to appoint a single coronavirus tsar with a specialized team to coordinate an industrial response to the virus.”

According to them, this could avoid continued confusion about medical supplies.

So how can I get a mask without cutting into the offer for healthcare professionals and frontline workers?

Simple: just use other non-medical masks. The shortage of N95 explains why the new CDC guidelines specify that individuals must wear “cloth face masks” and reserve medical masks for professionals who need them. These are two different categories of masks, which means that if you make or buy your own cloth mask, you will not cut precious supplies for front-line workers.

That said, if you have boxes of unopened N95 masks, consider donating them to local medical workers.

I have seen people wear bandanas, open bra cups, vacuum liners, and feminine products like “masks.” Are they effective enough to be used as a mask for an ordinary citizen?

According to the CDC, cloth masks must

  • snug but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be attached with links or earrings
  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • allow unrestricted breathing
  • be able to be machine washed and dried without damage or change in shape

If your home option does not meet these guidelines, it will not be as effective.

What if I want to create my own mask?

Awesome! The CDC offers sewing and non-sewing recommendations on its website, along with diagrams and instructions. If you are a more visual learner, here is a video that shows how to make the seamless option:

What if I’m not so cunning?

Many unemployed local businesses have turned to creating face masks (for example, in my city I know several costume designers and hat makers who have started making and selling masks). Support your local artisans – as long as their creations meet CDC guidelines – if you can. There are also many online retailers who have started selling cloth masks.

According to The Verge, Etsy vendors have sold hundreds of thousands of cloth masks in the past few days, according to the company.

“We hope that the increased availability of non-medical grade fabric masks from Etsy vendors will allow more medical and surgical masks to reach the people who need them most: frontline healthcare workers” said Etsy’s CEO Josh Silverman in a statement. statement Friday.

Should I include a filter in my mask?

Although many see masks as a tool to get sick themselves, masks are primarily aimed at preventing accidental transmission of the virus to others by speech or breathing, especially if one is asymptomatic. Therefore, a few layers of fabric should suffice. Of course, adding a filter will simply increase protection for everyone, but the new CDC recommendations do not specify what type of filter to use, if any. According to a recent study from Cambridge University, the most important thing to consider when making or wearing a mask is to make sure that breathing is not disturbed by the layers of the mask.

“If the respiratory protection is not able to meet the breathing requirements of the wearer, then the device will impose an additional respiratory load on the wearer, which is particularly impractical for people with breathing difficulties,” said the study. “In addition, the additional respiratory load can cause leakage due to the increase in negative pressure in the face mask. “

There are many web tutorials that recommend using items such as felt, panty liners, and coffee filters, but there is limited evidence that they actually work, and many of them are uncomfortable. breathe.

However, researchers at the University of Edinburgh tested several different common masks and used a particle counter to see how many particles would pass; they found that dust respirators with filters classified for PM 2.5 were 97-98% effective.

These filters are available online, but many have a long completion time.

But remember, the CDC recommendations for fabric masks simply specify that they should be made with multiple layers of fabric. Any mask that adheres to these guidelines is preferable to the absence of a mask in public situations where social distance may be difficult to maintain. Be sure to also follow the other CDC recommendations for hand washing, touching the face, and disinfecting commonly used household surfaces to keep everyone safe.


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