We’ve learned a lot about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in a short period of time. And the more we learn, the better recommendations health officials and our government can offer to help flatten the curve. But, with so much information being released each day, it can be hard to keep up with the changes.
It’s important to note that the most effective prevention methods we have to slow the spread of coronavirus are hand washing, avoiding sharing contaminated objects, and practicing proper social distancing. In addition to these practices, the most recent recommendation advised by the Center for Disease Control is for the public use of cloth face coverings. With all the confusion surrounding this topic, read on to learn more about the proper use of face masks for the public, where to get them, and how to wear and clean them.
Why is CDC now recommending the public use of face masks?
From the beginning, it’s been important for healthcare associates and infected patients to wear face masks to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 in healthcare facilities. However, this practice wasn’t recommended for public use until recently. That’s because significant exposure to coronavirus involves face to face contact within a distance of six feet—like when caring for a sick patient. Most public encounters are unlikely to result in such an exposure. The most important measures to reduce the risk of public infections are still to avoid congregating and to social distance.
However, in a new study, CDC found that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus don’t have any symptoms. Even those who eventually develop symptoms can transmit the virus to others before realizing they’re sick. The virus can spread through people in close proximity by speaking, coughing or sneezing. In light of these new findings, CDC now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where it’s difficult to maintain six feet of social distance. That includes when visiting essential businesses like the grocery store and pharmacy, where people interact in close contact with a cashier.
Which type of mask should you wear?
With the limited supply of masks nationwide, we must ensure personal protective equipment is readily available at healthcare settings to protect the healthcare workers and patients who are at highest risk. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the difference between the three types of face masks: N95 masks, surgical masks, and cloth face coverings. Only cloth face coverings fashioned from household items, such as bandanas, scarves and the like, are being recommended for public use. The general public should never wear N95 or surgical masks due to shortages in supplies for healthcare workers.
While not medical grade, cloth face masks have been shown to help protect others from you, in the event that you are sick or asymptomatic. They can also offer an important cue not to touch your face, something we’re all in the habit of doing. However, cloth masks do not protect you from becoming infected from someone else. That’s why we can’t let them give us a false sense of security—we must still practice safe, social distancing and proper hand washing. Cloth face coverings help the most when everyone wears them: I wear my mask to protect you, and you wear your mask to protect me.
How to properly make and use a cloth face mask
If you choose to wear a cloth face mask, there are many ways to make one for free at home. For example, you can cut a t-shirt to create ties that go behind your neck and head. If you’re handy at sewing, you can cut rectangles of cotton, run elastic through the hem to create ear loops, and sew it together. A third method is to place a coffee filter inside a folded bandana, and use hair ties as the ear loops. More information about homemade face masks can be found at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cloth face coverings should fit snugly and comfortably against the side of the face, while allowing for breathing without restriction. Make sure to wash your hands before and after putting your face mask on. Never touch the front of the mask—only handle it from the sides or straps, and be careful not to touch your face when doing so. If you need to take your mask off, put it on a clean surface or in a bag. And, it’s important to wash the mask at the end of the day or when you get home. You can put it in a pillowcase and toss it in the washing machine. Or, you can soak your mask in a bowl with warm, soapy water and vinegar for twenty minutes. Then rinse it well, wring it out and hang it to dry, or dry it in a pillowcase in the dryer.
Where to get cloth face masks
If you don’t want to make your own, some local businesses such as tailors and boutiques are making and selling face masks. You can also buy them on websites like Amazon and Etsy. But, be careful of these sites as quality varies, and the masks may not be made according to CDC guidelines. They can also be very expensive as supplies are low.
Thankfully, there’s another way for Jacksonville area residents to receive free, CDC-recommended cloth face masks. Through the Masks4Jax movement, large-scale manufacturers and local businesses have come together to make masks readily available in our community. Starting this week, 30,000 masks will be donated to local restaurants. Simply order takeout from one of the participating locations, and you’ll receive two free face masks with your order. This is a great way to help support local businesses and help flatten the curve. Visit Masks4Jax.com for a full list of participating restaurants, and more will be added soon.
Dr. Anthony Magnano is a Ponte Vedra resident and cardiologist at Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside. For more information on Dr. Magnano and his specialty treating Atrial fibrillation, visit Healthcare.ascension.org.
This column was written to address the topical debate of face masks and what their benefits are.