The CDC now recommends wearing a cloth mask in public.

By Emily VanSchmus and Kim Hutchison
April 07, 2020
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According to new Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, anyone entering a public space should wear a cloth mask. And while this new suggestion sounds a bit scary, it’s one of the easiest ways to keep yourself and others safe from the new coronavirus. Even though social distancing is still in full effect, there are still a few essential errands you may need to do, like grocery shopping or picking up prescriptions.

Do you need to wear a mask if you’re not sick? The short answer is yes. Even if you’re perfectly healthy and aren’t aware of any recent exposure to the virus, you could still be a risk to others. The CDC now reports, “that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms ('asymptomatic') and that even those who eventually develop symptoms ('pre-symptomatic') can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.” 

Essentially, if you are unknowingly carrying the virus, a trip to the grocery store could spread the virus to several other people. Niket Sonpal, M.D., a professor at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine and practicing physician, is currently caring for patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Brooklyn, New York. He says the CDC recommendation is not so much about keeping yourself healthy as it is about preventing the spread of particles you may be carrying. “There are so many people who are walking around with symptoms. Cloth masks prevent particles from exiting the mask wear's nose and mouth, and to a lesser degree also prevent outside particles from getting inside the wearer's nose and mouth,” he explains. 

On April 3, the CDC recommended that the public use or make their own cloth face masks so that surgical masks and N95 masks can be reserved for healthcare workers. “Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders,” according to their announcement. If you have any non-cloth masks leftover from home renovation projects, contact your local hospital to find out how to donate them to doctors or nurses in your area.

Sonpal walked us through the differences between N95 and surgical masks. “A surgical mask is a loose-fitting, disposable device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment,” he says. “The N95 designation means that when subjected to careful testing, the respirator blocks at least 95% of very small (0.3 micron) test particles.”

As for why N95 masks should be reserved for healthcare workers, Sonpal says it’s a purely mathematical reason: There simply aren’t enough masks for everyone, so the masks should be worn by those with the highest risk. “As healthcare workers, we are going to be exposed to the virus at astronomically higher rates than the average person,” he says. “Therefore healthcare workers need a larger degree of protection.”

Luckily, it’s easy to make your own cloth masks at home: You don’t even need to know how to sew! Use these how-to instructions to make your own cloth mask. Keep in mind that according to the CDC, cloth face coverings should fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face and include multiple layers of fabric. They should also allow for breathing without restriction and should be able to be laundered when necessary. 

Four Ways to Make a No-Sew Mask:

Kim Hutchison

1

What you’ll need: 

  • Bandana
  • Coffee filter
  • Hair elastics or rubber bands

Step 1:

Fold a bandana in half lengthwise, then fold the top and bottom edges together to gently crease, then unfold. Fold a coffee filter lengthwise and place it horizontally in the center, and then re-fold the top and bottom edges to meet in the center again.

Step 2:

Slide one hair elastic (you can use rubber bands too, but stretchy hair elastics are more comfortable) onto either end of the folded bandana and slide them toward the center until they’re about seven inches apart. Then fold in the ends of the bandana so that the hair elastics are on the outer edges.

Step 3:

To wear the mask, place the side with the folded edges on your nose and mouth and loop the hair elastics over your ears.

Kim Hutchison

2

What you’ll need: 

  • Square piece of fabric (at least 20 x 20 inches)
  • Pipe cleaner
  • Double-sided tape
  • Hair elastics or rubber bands

Step 1:

Lay a piece of fabric (ideally at last 20 inches square) flat and fold the top and bottom edges together so that they meet in the center. Flip the fabric over and bring the top and bottom edges to the center again.

Step 2:

Leave the bottom edge folded, but crease the top edge and unfold. Place a pipe cleaner (trimmed to about six inches long) in the center of the crease and secure with double-sided tape. Then, fold the top half back over along the crease.

Step 3:

Slide a hair elastic (or rubber band) onto either end of the folded bandana and slide them in until they’re about seven inches apart in the center. Then fold the outer edges of the bandana in to meet in the center (this is the side of the mask that will touch your face).

Step 4:

To wear the mask, slide the hair elastics over your ears and use the pipe cleaner to make sure the mask is securely fitted around your nose and cheeks.

Kim Hutchison

3

What you’ll need: 

  • Square bandana (22 x 22 inches)
  • Pipe cleaner
  • Double-sided tape
  • Hair elastics or rubber bands

Step 1:

Lay a bandana down flat (we used a standard adult-size bandana, which measures 22 x 22 inches) and fold the top and bottom edges together so that they meet in the center. Flip the folded bandana over, and bring the top and bottom edges to the center.

Step 2:

Leaving the bottom edge folded up, crease the folded top edge then unfold. Place a six-inch pipe cleaner piece in the center of the crease, secure with double-sided tape, then fold the top half back down along the crease.

Step 3:

Slide a hair elastic onto either end of the folded bandana until they’re about seven inches apart in the center. Then fold the outer edges of the bandana in to meet in the center.

Step 4:

To wear the mask, slide the hair elastics over your ears and use the pipe cleaner to make sure the mask is securely fitted around the top.

Kim Hutchison

4

What you’ll need: 

  • Cotton t-shirt
  • Pipe cleaner
  • Double-stick tape
  • Hair elastics or rubber bands

Step 1:

Lay a cotton t-shirt down flat and cut a straight line across from armpit to armpit, so you’re left with just the body of the t-shirt. Lay the shirt flat so the bottom hem faces you, then cut up the right and left side creases so you’re left with a square piece of fabric.

Step 2:

Next, take a tall sock (one made from stretchy material works best) and cut the top of the tube opening off (about half an inch down) to create a makeshift elastic band. Cut another piece the same size and set them aside.

Step 3:

Fold the top and bottom edges of the t-shirt fabric lengthwise so that they meet in the center, then flip the folded fabric over. Crease the folded top edge, then unfold. Place a six-inch pipe cleaner piece in the center of the crease, secure with double-sided tape, then fold the top half back down along the crease.

Step 4:

To wear the mask, slide the sock loops onto either end of the folded fabric and scoot them toward the middle until they’re about seven inches apart. Then fold the ends of the fabric in toward the center, place the folded pieces against your mouth and nose and use the sock loops to secure the mask around your ears. Use the pipe cleaner piece to fit the mask snugly around your nose and cheeks.

As of April 3, 2020, the CDC is recommending that everyone should wear a cloth face covering in public settings to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Visit cdc.gov for further information about this development and learn more about the CDC's no-sew face mask tutorial here.

Comments (2)

Anonymous
April 23, 2020
I think an Editor should have tried the directions in this article. 1 - Bandana - Step 1 has incomplete directions starting out. Poor way to start. 2 - Folded Fabric - If you follow Steps 1 + 2 as written, you end up with an odd, open slit facing the public, because, again, the directions are faulty. Then in Step 3 the Fabric magically turns into a Bandana! (Editor?) 3 - Folded Bandana - Try it exactly as written. I challenge you ! same dumb mistake as in #2. Consistency doesn't count when something is consistently incorrect. 4 - T-Shirt - One would be better protected by rolling the T-shirt up from the hem, wrapping it over nose and mouth, and tying the sleeves behind the head. More layers, easier directions. I'm a seamstress, and a Special Education Paraprofessional. I get that whoever wrote this article was sincerely trying to help the public and legions of non-sewers. However, an Editor should have caught the directional errors and sought help to make them correct, clear and conducive to success.
Anonymous
April 10, 2020
What is the doubled-side tape used for in making masks?