“My mask protects you; Your mask protects me.”COVID-19 Slogan from the Czech Republic
To wear a mask, or not wear a mask – it’s been a topic of conversation since the start of this COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the messaging has been (and as of March 31, continues to be) confusing. In February, the US Surgeon General discouraged the public from wearing masks, even going so far as to say that masks would not protect you from the coronavirus. The WHO echoed this message, despite evidence from other countries that masks and other face coverings can indeed help slow the spread of respiratory illnesses, like SARS-COV-2.
There’s some speculation that the advice from the CDC and the WHO is due to an intense fear of a world-wide shortage of masks and personal protective equipment for our medical personnel. And that is definitely a major concern. However, we need to separate the concern over a shortage of N95 masks from the possibility that homemade fabric masks can provide a degree of protection for the general public. And as of March 31, it seems that the CDC may be reconsidering their recommendations for the use of face coverings by the public in the US, so stay tuned.
Whether the CDC updates their guidance or not, N95 masks should still be reserved for those on the frontlines. And, given the current evidence suggesting that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people can spread the virus through breathing and speaking, it’s worth considering that DIY face masks could play a role in flattening the curve here in the US. If everyone were to wear a face covering in public, asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people would be much less likely to spread the virus and healthy people would be more protected and less likely to become infected.
How Effective are DIY Masks?
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
DIY masks and face coverings are by no means perfect, but they don’t have to be perfect to make a big difference. One study found that DIY masks made from t-shirts were 70% effective. Wearing a face covering with 70% effectiveness, along with social distancing measures and proper hand washing, could significantly slow the spread of this pandemic!
For an overview of some of the research on the effectiveness of masks, check out this roundtable discussion with the MDs from Wild Health.
If I Wear a Mask, People Will Look at Me Funny
One barrier to wearing some type of face covering in the US is the associated stigma. While masks are commonly worn and socially accepted in many Asian countries, here in the US, they tend to spark fear and ridicule. However, this stigma isn’t unique to the US, and there are examples of it being overcome in places like the Czech Republic. We could overcome it too.
A grass-roots campaign to make homemade masks in the Czech Republic, coupled with the slogan “My mask protects you; Your mask protects me” has taken off and wearing a mask in public is now considered a pro-social behavior. So, instead of avoiding eye contact with the next person you see at the grocery store wearing a mask, consider smiling and saying “thank you”. They are doing their part to keep you, and their community safe.
The more steps we can take to lower R0, flatten the curve, and slow the spread of the SARS-COV-2 virus, the better off we’ll be. If you’re willing to break through the stigma and wear a DIY face covering on your next shopping trip, here are some ideas for getting started.
How to Make a DIY Mask
If you have the supplies and skills to sew, there are several great patterns and tutorials for making your own washable, fabric mask. And companies like Joann Fabrics have collated resources and are donating supplies to those who can make masks, in an effort to meet their goal of donating over 100 million masks. Groups are popping up all over online, including on NextDoor and Facebook, to coordinate efforts, share supplies, and get masks into the hands of those who need them most.
Some tips I’ve seen include:
- Sew a bendable nose piece in the mask for an improved fit. For this, people are using everything from floral wire, to pipe cleaners, and even paper clips.
- Sew a mask with strings that you tie, not elastic straps. This advice is two fold. First, on a supply level, there seems to be a shortage of elastic. Second, feedback from those wearing masks indicates the elastic bands are tough on the ears and can lead to irritation and bleeding. The strings that tie behind the head are more comfortable for those wearing masks for longer periods of time.
- Know your audience. If you’re sewing masks for medical professionals, consider sewing the larger-sized masks. Nurses have reported wearing the fabric masks over top of their N95 masks to prolong the life of the N95. If you’re sewing masks for your family or friends, measure their faces, and sew an appropriately sized mask for the best possible fit.
If you don’t have materials, resources, or skills to sew, there are also plenty of DIY no-sew disposable mask tutorials online.
Do you have a favorite mask pattern or tutorial? I’ll be trying my hand at sewing some masks this weekend and I’d love to hear about it!
Where to Purchase Masks
With masks being in such short supply, finding places to purchase them can be tough. And the public should definitely not be competing with healthcare providers and other essential workers for access to masks. However, if you’re unable to make your own, or if you have the means to purchase and donate masks to those in need, here are two places to look:
- Lambs – an LA-based clothing company, is repurposing their skills and equipment to make and donate 5 million masks. You can choose to purchase masks for yourself, or purchase masks to be donated to medical personnel and those on the frontlines.
- Etsy – many sellers are offering homemade masks for sale at reasonable prices.