CAICE Outreach

So the CDC has recommended wearing cloth masks. Here’s why and what you can do.

Written By: Jeanette McConnell, PhD

The CDC has recommended “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” 

This is the latest in health and safety recommendations that the CDC have shared since the spread of SARS-CoV-2 began.

Which means that in addition to wearing a mask you should also be… 

  1. Staying home as much as possible. Only go out for essential business. 
  2. Washing your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds. 
  3. Not touching your face with unwashed hands. 

Some vocab: SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the specific type of coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. 

Prior to this mask wearing recommendation, the CDC was clear that the virus can be transmitted via droplets when a person who is infected coughs or sneezes. This droplet could unwittingly shoot right into your mouth or nose but more likely it will settle onto a surface and then you could touch that surface and then touch your face and become infected too. 

This is still all correct. 

The new mask wearing guideline comes as additional information about how the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be transmitted was communicated to the CDC. Data shows that the virus can be spread not only via droplets but also via aerosols. 

The virus can become aerosolized and linger, floating in the air, where an infected person was merely breathing, talking, coughing or sneezing. They can also travel further than the 6ft social distancing guideline and linger in the air for an extended period of time from minutes to hours.

It important to note that the dose or exposure time required to become infected via the virus in aerosols is not yet known.

But the closer and longer you are near someone shedding the virus the more likely you are to breathe it in. Wearing a mask can limit how much virus an infected person emits and how much a non-infected person breathes in.

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Remember, aerosols are tiny bits of solids & liquids that become suspended in the air. They are usually microscopic and cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Wearing a cloth mask is a way to decrease the likelihood that you will breathe in any droplets or aerosols that contain SARS-CoV-2. It also decreases the likelihood that you will pass the virus to someone else if you are asymptomatic. Help yourself and help others!
There are many easy ways and many different types of materials to make a mask out of, but some are more protective than others. Check out this page and graph that compare different types of materials ability to filter out droplets and aerosols.

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** Remember you do not need a N95 mask. These are currently in short supply and it is vital that our health care workers who are caring for our loved ones with COVID-19 have these masks. 

The CDC has some examples and guides for making different versions of a cloth mask here. There are guides for no-sew masks and masks that require a sewing machine. 

Additionally, our Education, Outreach & Diversity Coordinator wants to share with you the masks that she made at home as an example of how you can make a mask to protect yourself and others when you have to venture out of the safety of your home. 

Steps to make and use a homemade face mask.

Every time the seawater crashes, tons of air bubbles are produced. Bubbles bursting onto the water surface “explode” and leave behind tiny droplets. Some of them, smaller than a

  1. She used this pattern and video tutorial. We will go through the steps below in addition to the video and written resources that exist on the above linked page. 
  1. Cut out your pattern! Choose a tight woven but breathable fabric. Something like a pillowcase or button up shirt fabric is good. Be sure to leave a seam allowance when cutting out your fabric pieces. 

3. Sew your pattern. Follow the instructions on the page linked above for the pattern shown in the photo. If using your own pattern be sure to leave an opening to insert the HEPA filter.

4. Use an air filter or vacuum bag filter as the HEPA filter. You just need to carefully unfold the filter and then cut it to size. If there are little bits of glue on the filter, carefully peel them off.

5. Insert the HEPA filter into the pocket you made in the mask.

6. You can then attach strings to tie the mask on or you can attach elastic or a hair tie that you will then wrap around your ears.

7. For securing the mask to your face, there are two things that will make the seal you get better. The first is sew a pipe cleaner into the top part of the mask, over where the nose part is. This will allow you to shape the mask to your face once you put it on.

The second is if you have some double sided skin safe tape, use this to go around the inner edges of your mask so that you can create a seal around your mouth and nose.

8. Wearing the mask! This is super important! You should place the mask on while you are still at home and you are certain that you have clean hands. Secure the mask before leaving and leave it in place – without touching it – for the entire time that you are out. Once you leave the house, a good rule of thumb is to assume that your mask and your hands have become contaminated with the virus. This means that you should not be touching the mask because you could accidentally infect yourself.

9. Taking the mask off. Once you have returned home or to another safe place, you can remove the mask. Do so carefully and do not touch the outside of the mask to your face. Remember it could have the virus on it. You can then lightly spray your mask with some 70% alcohol solution and/or leave it sitting out, dry, for at least 24 hours. The time the virus remains viable on cloth is not known, but you can see how long it remains on other common surfaces here. You can also remove the HEPA filter and wash the mask in the laundry.

These instructions are not medical advice and are just an example of one way that you might choose to follow the new recommendations set forth by the CDC to wear a cloth mask when going out. 

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).