WRITTEN BY: Beyond Type 1 Editorial Team
Be prepared with a mask or face covering the next time you go out in public.
In case you missed it: the CDC has updated its recommendations for mask use during the COVID-19 pandemic. As new information has emerged about this coronavirus, it’s become clear that not all people who contract it show symptoms – according to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, up to 25% of people with COVID-19 might be asymptomatic. Because of this, it’s easy for those who don’t actually know they’re infected to spread the virus to others in close proximity, and masks could be a major preventative measure to curb asymptomatic transmission.
As of late, there has also been a lot of back and forth discussion over whether or not this virus is “airborne” and some research suggests it’s plausible because liquid droplets from sneezing, coughing and even just exhaling can linger in the air longer than originally expected. While experts are circling exact answers to this and other questions, the CDC urges the general public to be on the safe side and take all precautions to protect against coming into contact with this virus.
As a result, the CDC now recommends everyone wear cloth face coverings in public, particularly in places where social distancing is difficult to maintain and opportunities for transmission are high, like pharmacies and grocery stores. Cloth face masks can be routinely washed and re-worn, and are the best addition to social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
It’s important to note that these new recommendations are not a substitute for the current stay-at-home orders and social distancing required by some states and the federal government. Per CDC guidelines, it’s still recommended that people maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from one another, avoid social gatherings and stay home as much as possible.
Types of masks
Cloth face coverings or masks are a cost effective way to keep yourself safe, can be made from household items (like an old t-shirt and rubber bands) or bought online, and can be re-washed and worn again. These masks should be worn by the general public to help slow the spread of coronavirus, especially in high-traffic, public areas. These are not recommended when taking care of sick patients as they do not provide adequate protection from repeated exposure to the virus.
Cloth masks can be vital because they help slow the spread of COVID-19 between people who might have the virus but are asymptomatic and do not know they are infected. Concerns now over those who unknowingly carry coronavirus are high, so shifting to a new social norm – where everyone wears a cloth face mask – is our best line of defense when coupled with social distancing measures.
Some people are opting to reinforce their cloth masks with disposable air filters to make them more effective. The CDC suggests doubling up protection by pairing a bandana with a coffee filter to make it more effective, while some people are sewing masks with filter pockets and using disposable HEPA filters. Reinforcing seems to be a good idea and recent tests have shown HEPA furnace filters and vacuum cleaner bags to be most effective, followed by coffee filters, while scarves and bandanas captured the lowest number of particles.
At the very least, a simple cloth mask is better than nothing and will capture more particles than wearing nothing at all.
These are single-use, loose-fitting masks meant to be used by those treating someone who is sick and/or suspected of having COVID-19. These masks can effectively block large particles but will not necessarily prevent small particles from being transmitted by coughing or sneezing. Because of supply issues, per the CDC, these should be reserved for healthcare professionals only at this time, as they endure constant exposure to COVID-19.
These are heavier-duty, tight-fitting, single-use respirator masks which also remove particles from the air, but filter out at least 95 percent of very small particles. Like surgical masks (but even more important and effective), due to supply concerns, N-95 masks are scarce in supply and should only be reserved for healthcare professionals, as they see repeated exposure to COVID-19.
If you already have surgical masks or N-95s (or other personal protective equipment) in your possession and would like to donate them to healthcare workers in need, consider using these resources:
Tips for wearing masks
- Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
- Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
- Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
- Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not reuse masks until they have been washed.
- To remove the mask: remove it from behind – do not touch the front of the mask and clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
- Place used cloth masks in a bag or bin until they can be washed with detergent/soap and hot water.
Learn how to make your own cloth face covering as recommended by the CDC here.