If you decide to wear a mask to the grocery store, make sure you wear it safely
Opinion: There are still unanswered questions about wearing a homemade mask in public. But also important guidelines to do it safely.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending people wear homemade cloth masks in public places like grocery stores and pharmacies, but not N95 masks or other medical-grade gear that is in such short supply for health-care workers.
It’s voluntary, of course, but the CDC and Arizona’s health director now say it is a good practice, especially in areas where there is heavy community transmission.
This is a reversal from previous guidance that seemingly healthy folks don’t need to wear a mask in public. Medical-grade masks are already in short supply, the argument went then, and non-medical grade masks don’t really protect you from viruses.
What’s more, some public-health experts contended, masks may cause people to touch their faces more as they struggle to adjust it, potentially causing particles to spread even more.
It's about protecting others from you
But that has changed. No, homemade masks may not protect you from exposure. That’s why the CDC says you still need to maintain social distance, vigilantly wash your hands and make sure not to touch your face, even while wearing a mask.
Rather, the argument now seems to be that voluntarily wearing a mask could help protect others from you. Because there is mounting evidence that people can spread COVID-19 without showing symptoms, and even speaking can discharge droplets that could infect others.
Covering your mouth and nose with something that resembles a surgical mask or even a bandanna can help keep those particles to yourself.
But you’ve got to be smart about it.
I mean, I want to show a good-faith effort at the grocery store. The last thing I want is to inadvertently get someone else sick.
But I don’t want to get myself sick in the process.
It’s been noted that even health-care workers sometimes put on and take off medical-grade masks incorrectly, grabbing the cloth that goes over the mouth instead of the elastic that goes over the ears.
The World Health Organization urges us to always:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before putting on a mask.
- Make sure it seals properly, with no gaps between your face and the mask.
- Don’t touch it once it’s on. If you do, wash your hands immediately.
- Take it off from behind, being careful not to touch the front, and wash your hands again.
Meanwhile, the CDC has issued additional guidance on homemade masks:
- Create it out of multiple layers of fabric.
- Use material that will hold its shape after washing.
- Make sure you can breathe without restriction in it.
- Machine wash the mask “routinely.” The CDC doesn't spell out what that means, but based on the WHO recommendations, I’d imagine it would be after every use. The agency also doesn’t explain how to wash it in the machine, but I would imagine a good permanent press cycle on warm, with plenty of soap and sanitizer (if you have it) would do the trick.
- Don’t use masks on anyone younger than 2, or anyone who can’t remove it without assistance.
And if you’re curious how to make a mask, the CDC has instructions on its website. You can sew a version out of two 10-inch-by-6-inch pieces of cotton fabric and two 6-inch pieces of elastic, rubber bands, string or hair ties.
The CDC website also includes instructions for no-sew versions made from the lower part of a T-shirt and a bandanna and coffee filter.
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