We are living an unprecedented time in the world and taking the necessary precautions to remain healthy is extremely important. Let’s dive into the latest CDC’s recommendation on face masks, how to use them, and what materials work best.
Part 1: How and why do cloth face masks help prevent transmission of coronavirus?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing face masks where social distancing is hard to maintain (e.g pharmacies, grocery stores) as an additional voluntary public health measure. Having said that, some local municipalities are requiring residents to cover their faces when they are out. The City Council in Lancaster, Calif., north of Los Angeles requires residents to wear masks for essential outings. In Laredo, Texas, the City Council requires anyone who enters a building that is not their home to use some type of face covering for their mouth and nose. Some municipalities are taking a step further and issuing fines and tickets for misdemeanors if residents violate these ordinances.
Wearing a face mask will slow the spread of the virus and help asymptomatic individuals from transmitting the virus.
But what’s the definition of social distancing and why is it important? The CDC recommends staying at least six feet away from others as this can help you avoid contact with respiratory droplets (consisting mostly of water that is large enough to fall to the ground rapidly after being produced) that are expelled when sneezing, coughing, talking or breathing. Transmission mainly occurs through large droplets that fall in close proximity.
The CDC does not recommend using surgical, disposable, or n95 masks as they are critical and in short supply for healthcare workers and first responders. Additionally, face masks should not be used in children under 2, anyone who has respiratory issues, is unconscious, or unable to remove the face mask without assistance.
Protection for self
Face masks will protect you from asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals that are around you. Face masks can catch droplets expelled by sneezes, coughs or exhalation, reducing contamination and spread of the virus.
Protection for others
The CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield estimated that at least 25% of people with the coronavirus may be asymptomatic. Asymptomatic individuals may not exhibit any common symptoms but are carriers of the virus. By wearing a face mask you are protecting others from inhaling contaminated droplets expelled if you cough, sneeze, or even breath
Children & Face Masks
Wearing face masks is a voluntary measure but recommended for everyone except for children under 2 years of age. Children should never go out to run essential errands during a pandemic and community playgrounds are closed.
According to the preliminary report published by the CDC on April 6, 2,572 cases occurred in children younger than 18 and were less likely to become seriously ill than adults. Moreover, they appeared less likely than adults to develop the main coronavirus symptoms like fever, cough or shortness of breath. Children who are infected may be asymptomatic and could spread the virus to others in their families and communities.
Children should use a face mask to avoid infecting others. If they have the virus, a face mask can prevent their respiratory droplets from landing on or around other people. Masks are the most useful in public places and don’t need to be used at home.
Part 2: How to wear and remove a mask properly
Before putting on a face mask make sure to wash your hands with soap or use an alcohol-based sanitizer. Put on the face mask by securing one side of your face with the ear loops and then proceed to the next side of your face. The face mask should feel comfortably snug against your face to avoid movement. It should cover the bridge of your nose, mouth, and part of your chin.
When removing the mask make sure to sanitize your hands again, gently loosen one side of the ear bands and proceed to the other side of your face. Do not touch your eyes, nose, mouth, or the outside of the mask. Fold the mask on itself with the outside in for storage. Wash hands immediately after removing.
Cleaning Your Mask
Face masks should be washed regularly depending on how often they are used. It is recommended that masks are washed after every use.
You can use a washing machine with hot water and your normal detergent to wash your mask. Avoid bleach as it can degrade the fibers in the fabric. Let your mask air dry or use a dryer.
It is extremely important to use your mask correctly in order to increase its effectiveness. Don’t fiddle or tamper with your mask while wearing it and avoid touching your face. Don’t “take breaks” from wearing your mask. This means having the mask rest on your neck, hang from one ear loop, or have it rest below your nostrils.
Make sure your mask is always dry. Moisture produced while a person is exhaling will dampen the mask. The wet fabric is more likely to spread the virus.
What are the risks of wearing a mask?
Face masks can create a false sense of security and can lead people to justify nonessential activities or group gatherings and forget about social distancing. In addition, as the outer surface of the mask becomes polluted, a person can get infected if they touch or improperly remove the mask.
Masks can also cause skin damage through sweating and rubbing, leading to other forms of infection. Even with the mouth and nose fully covered, the virus can still enter through the eyes.
Part 3: What type of cloth facemasks are best
The CDC recommends that face masks can be made from homemade or common materials at a low cost. That being said, tightly woven cotton, thicker weave and higher thread count (at least 180 count) fabric are better than lower thread count as they filter more particles. A simple trick to know your face mask is thick enough is hold it up to a bright light or the sun. The tighter the thread, the less light will come in and the fabric will perform better.
Lastly, two-layered masks perform better than single layer because small particles find their way through one layer but may be trapped in another.
The C.D.C. recommends adding some type of filter into your mask for extra protection. Even adding a layer of paper towel between two layers of the fabric increases the efficiency of a mask. An assistant professor of environmental engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology mentioned that “the use of filters helps promote safe breathing and ensures that particles are removed properly,” as filters are discarded
If you’re making your mask at home, HEPA vacuum filters have the highest efficiency for filtering very small particles. Coffee filters and paper towels are less effective but can also be used. The majority of masks you can buy online, now have filters and you can buy additional filters separately.
You can find a variety of fabric face masks online ranging from different cotton threads, layers, designs, and filters. Masks that use filters should have filters replaced about every 7 days to increase their effectiveness.
What to Look For When Buying a Face Mask?
Do not buy N95, medical-grade, filtering masks as they are in short supply. There are exceptions to getting medical-grade masks if you are immunocompromised or are caring for someone sick with the coronavirus.
When buying a cloth mask make sure they cover your nose, mouth, and have adjustable bands or fastenings that keep it firmly in place when walking, talking and breathing. Your mask should not have any gaps between your nose and cheek.
Try to find a tightly woven or water-resistant mask that has at least two layers. The mask should be easy to clean and sanitize. Masks that have embellishments (sequins) provide surfaces that viral particles can linger on for days.
Wearing a face mask alone will not prevent you from getting coronavirus. Face masks should be used in addition to frequent hand washing, social distancing, and additional CDC recommendations. Social distancing is extremely important to end the pandemic. Make sure to buy a mask that you will feel comfortable in and that you can easily wash!