Ten Things You Should Know About Masks in a COVID-19 World

April 22, 2020

By Heather Novak

Heather A. Novak is the Interim Director of the Center for Community Action and Research, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Political Science at Pace University and is currently obsessed with mask making.  You can reach her at hnovak@pace.edu

* This article does not constitute medical advice and is for informational purposes only

  1. In many states wearing a mask is now required.  Currently, the Centers for Disease Control recommends anyone over the age of 2 wear a face covering in public.  Unless you are a front line medical professional, respirator or N95 masks should be reserved as these resources are still extremely limited. 
  2. Different types of masks do different jobs.   This isn’t just about what materials or patterns are used to make the mask, but as to the mask’s actual function.  This is a great short video as to the difference between surgical masks and respirators.   
  3. Although the efficiency of wearing masks against COVID-19 is not yet 100% known, it is currently believed that wearing masks lessens the chance an infected person can infect someone who does not have the virus when both are wearing face coverings.   At a time when testing is hard to come by, it is important that you don’t infect others when you don’t know if you are a carrier.   You do not have to have symptoms to give this to others.   People can be carriers and not know it.
  4. You can make a face covering with materials you already have on hand.   You don’t want to go out to get these things.  Here is a no sew option if you have access to a scarf/bandana, hair elastics, and a coffee filter.  Here is another option you can use with just a t-shirt and a pair of scissors. 
  5. If you have access to a sewing machine and materials to make masks, there are a lot of options.   This first video goes over the different types of patterns out there and the pros and cons.   This video fit tested the efficacy of different mask patterns with interesting results. 
  6. Materials can impact how effective your mask is at protecting you.   In the earlier video they spoke about non-woven fabric material.   This would be similar to the fabric like material used in reusable shopping bags, car covers and painting jumpsuits.   This is not the plastic type material used to make ikea bags, but the soft dot-like fabric. If you do have this lying around, you can use it to make liners for cloth masks, or make entire masks from it.   Again, no one can guarantee this is 100% effective, but it is better than woven fabric alone.  Other materials people are experimenting with are vacuum bags and filters.
  7. You can make cloth covers that can go over respirators for healthcare workers.   Many front line workers are rationing N95 masks (normally a worker may dispose of a respirator after each patient, shortages are requiring usage for whole days or even longer).  Having washable coverings you can use in between patients can help protect healthcare providers and their patients.   You should always make sure that anything you are making is needed and up to the organization’s standards before you begin.  This is one of my favorite tutorials now for this.  You can make it to be used over another mask, or include a filter pocket for using it alone. 
  8. These masks are not meant to be used multiple times without washing or disinfecting.    You need to treat used masks as contaminated until they are washed.  Keep them in a plastic ziplock and transfer them to a pillowcase or lingerie bag for washing and drying.  Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after touching.
  9. You can make masks for those who need them.   If you have the materials, you can bulk sew masks to donate.    This is a great tutorial for bulk sewing the Olson mask pattern.   Again, you want to make sure what you are making can be used by the organization before you start sewing.    You also want to make sure before you start that everything is freshly laundered, your hands are washed and covered (if possible) and that you keep the finished masks as sterile as possible (ziplock bags for storage).
  10. Mask and face coverings are not to be used in place of staying at home and maintaining social distancing.   They are to be used when you must go out and there is a chance you may not be able to maintain social distance the whole time.  Stay safe!