Federal Health Officials now recommend people cover their mouths and noses with cloth face mask when in public, to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

There are a lot of mixed messages out there about whether wearing a mask can help at this time. I believe it is beneficial for the simple fact that wearing a mask is a two-way street -- they protect you from others and others from you.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently updated its guidance on the matter, recommending individuals use cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.  Such as grocery stores and pharmacies.  The guidance also recommends people use fabric coverings, not surgical masks or specialized N85 masks, which should be reserved for health care providers.

The CDC continues to study the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) across the United States.  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.   This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in proximity, for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing.  In light of this new evidence, the CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public setting where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

While homemade masks aren’t as effective as medical-grade masks, researchers studying respiratory illnesses, including SARS, which is another form of coronavirus, have found that a simple mask can help lower the risk of infection.

There are official guidelines from the CDC on what qualities homemade masks should have, such as including multiple layers of snug-fitting fabric and holding up to machine washing.   The CDC also provides a tutorial for sew and no-sew crafting methods. 

JoAnn Fabric Stores are offering free, precut mask-making materials for donations to hospitals, including curbside pickup.  They also offer a tutorial which comes from Froedtert Hospital & the Medical College of Wisconsin, which suggests looking for 100 percent cotton, like denim or percale, and not stretchy or knit materials like a T-shirt, which could be too thin.  The rule of thumb here is that if you can fold the fabric in two layers, you should not be able to see through it but should still be able to breathe through it.

Some of the no-sew tutorials don’t require cutting up fabric; in those cases, handkerchiefs, cloth napkins, or scarves and bandanas could be used.  If you are looking for something halfway between those two, this tutorial from an online Japanese arts and crafts educator called Japanese Creations demonstrates how to make a no-sew mask using a handkerchief (or scarf or cloth napkin) and hair ties.  If you do not have hair ties, the tutorial suggests cutting the cuff’s off of old socks or nylon tights.

Face coverings made of fabric are not intended to protect wearers from getting sick, but rather to prevent them from spreading the virus to others, and these recommendations complements and does not replace the President Coronavirus Guidelines for American, 30 days to slow the spread.

At this time of uncertainty, it’s likely simpler to assume all are positive for the coronavirus and take measures to protect ourselves and others through simple methods. Wearing a face mask is by no means 100 percent effective, but it’s close to 70 percent for certain household materials.

Stay informed and plan ahead.  For more information about health issues and emergency preparedness, please visit the following websites:

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