It’s that simple at this point. No matter what you think about how fast anything should have happened, from the federal government, to state governments, to top health care experts – it’s agreed and acknowledged.
Here are some resources and answers to some questions I’ve seen floating around, with the absolute understanding right up top that I’m not a medical expert, just someone who is gathering information for you here. Please use responsibly.
The short version is, if you are in public, if you are an essential worker, if you are around anyone at all not in your household (and everyone is healthy in your household,) you should be wearing some kind of face mask.
Do masks work against COVID-19?
I know there’s a ton of info and even studies floating around. At this point it is difficult to trust anything. But from the studies I’ve been looking at and are being referred to globally, masks are actually EXTREMELY helpful for societal protection.
In this NIH study, literally titled Professional and Home-Made Face Masks Reduce Exposure to Respiratory Infections among the General Population, they compared medical face masks, homemade coverings, and no mask, and in much more realistic real world situations, homemade masks helped all droplets. The initial study was for influenza, but it includes particles as small as COVID-19 has.
“It is also clear that home-made masks such as teacloths may still confer a significant degree of protection, albeit less strong than surgical masks or FFP2 masks. Home made masks however would not suffer from limited supplies, and would not need additional resources to provide at large scale.”
You should NOT be wearing an N95 unless you need it for medical or other care-oriented work. They need it more and there aren’t enough. If you have surplus N95s, please donate them.
Who should be getting the masks people are making?
At the same time, we know there is a supply shortage, and part of the frustration about not just not recommending them, but actively telling people wearing them is bad has worked against us massively. We could have been making them for much longer. And so now how do we get enough for the general population while still trying to prioritize those working directly with patients?
To start with, as someone who can make masks, I’m trying to prioritize. Hopefully, everyone will have a mask soon. Because the primary benefit of homemade masks is to keep those who are sick from spreading it, and so many don’t know they have it for sometimes weeks, this is how I’m prioritizing:
1. First and foremost, medical workers and (maybe even more importantly) the patients they come into contact with. If we can reduce the chance medical workers get infected by having COVID, or suspected COVID, patients wear masks, we reduce the chance they get infected and reduce our healthcare workforce more, and don’t cause more patients.
2. Essential workers who come into contact with a lot of people on a daily basis. Grocery clerks, delivery people, etc.
3. All other essential workers.
4. Elders and more at-risk people like pregnant, diabetic, etc. I know this seems backwards, and they should be first, but at this point I hope ALL Elders and those at risk are staying home and not coming out in the public at all. If they HAVE to come out, for work or other essential activities, I would bump this group up top for mask need.
5. Anyone who goes out in public at all.
Are some masks more effective?
Yes. N95s are the standard as I’m sure everyone is aware right now. But again, reserve those for the medical workers. For the general public, just tightly woven cotton or a cotton blend of any kind over your face would be helpful.
Something that can fit tightly over your nose but still give you a gap over the mouth is best, which is why you see medical masks made with the pleats – those pleats allow for a gap. And a paper clip, pipe cleaners, or floral wire inside the mask helps make the fit over the nose better.
But – I’ll belabor this a bit more – any kind of tightly woven cotton fabric over your face will have some benefit.
DO NOT use something with plastic, metal, or other hard surfaces on your mask.
How do I get a mask?
It’s literally about trying to get everyone in the nation a face mask ASAP, which will simply just take TIME, so here’s a few ideas if you’re waiting for some.
No matter what kind of mask you use, remember that whenever you use it, assume it is not infect. If possible have two or more. Wash one and wear one. Whether you wash it on a hot water cycle (do this with the clothes you wore wherever you were also,) or spray it with disinfecting spray (ideally washing it, second would be spraying,) make sure you’re not re-using it immediately. COVID can sit on fabric for several hours.
Tightly Woven Scarf, Handkerchief, or Tea Towel
I know this seems silly, but really, if you don’t have any other means, these are better than nothing and they DO offer some protection. The more tightly woven, the better. If I wasn’t able to get a mask, I would go for a tightly woven tea towel, personally.
Making a Mask
These are best for right now until worldwide supply of masks is back in stock. The best cloth is tightly woven cotton (think quilting fabric or even cotton sheets.)
Here’s a no-sew face mask using fabric glue if you don’t have access to a sewing machine or don’t know how to sew. I have not tried them so I can’t imagine this would hold up to
If you do know how to sew and have a sewing machine, this is a good simple pattern that still allows you to insert a filter.
The ones I’m making are based on this pattern. It is ideal for medical institutions as it allows for a nose piece and filter. You don’t have to make this one, but it’s easier than it looks!
A note on filters:
Two of the designs above allow for filters between the cotton. While people have been experimenting with vacuum cleaner bags and coffee filters, I just saw this about disposable shop towels. Really, a filter may help, and it can’t hurt (as long as you are replacing it!) so it’s worth it to me.
Buying Homemade Masks
I feel so many things about this! I get so many requests for masks, and I want to fulfill all of them. The more masks we get on people in public, the less likely sick people who don’t know they’re sick are spreading it.
At the same time, we absolutely have to get enough masks for our medical and care team people. If a medical or care-oriented organization is asking for them, they need it first.
BUT – getting the general population in masks could potentially mean we’re relieving the medical teams by ensuring less people get sick in the first place.
I’m personally creating on a majority for medical/care people, some for others. Short term trumps long term, but long term is important (and long term is a matter of weeks at this point.)
Use your own judgement, but in general, this is how I would rank buying them:
1. From someone who is making them to supplement lost income, or this is their primary source of income. There are so many people who are out of work, or need work, and if someone can make masks to sell to the public (at reasonable rates) I think this is the ideal person to buy from. It helps them, and it helps you.
2. From someone who is donating masks primarily, but generous giving on your part could help them make many more masks. Please know these people might be inundated with requests right now, however, and be nice! They may simply not have the time, and if their priority is medical worker donations, they need to be allowed to focus on that.
3. From an organization who is doing something like a you buy one, we donate one. Do your own research on this. I have seen some organizations who say they are keeping people employed this way, but I haven’t researched any of them. I will update if I do.
I don’t think it’s the right thing to do at this point to sell masks when you don’t need that income and others need donations so desperately, so I personally wouldn’t buy from anyone who is selling purely for profit on an already stable income.
But I also recognize that people just need masks and they are hard to come by, and if that’s where you can get a mask, get a mask!
Please feel free to discuss or leave any more resources, especially as they (hopefully) become more available. I will try to update below as I find them.