While surgical and N95 masks are in short supply, cloth masks are more accessible and reusable. Although cloth masks and N95 masks have different purposes, both are intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. A cloth mask is worn to help protect others in case the wearer has the virus. An N95 mask helps protect the wearer from getting the virus from others.
Countries that required face masks, testing, isolation and social distancing early in the pandemic seem to have had some success slowing the disease’s spread. Common sense also suggests that some protection is better than none. But wearing a cloth face mask will lose any value unless it’s combined with frequent hand-washing and social distancing.
Cloth masks are cheap and simple to make. Instructions are easy to find online. Masks can be made from common materials, such as sheets made of tightly woven cotton. The CDC website even includes directions for no-sew masks made from bandannas and T-shirts. Cloth masks should include multiple layers of fabric.
How to wear a cloth face mask
Cloth face masks should be worn in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as in grocery stores, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
Here are a few pointers for putting on and taking off a cloth mask:
- Place your mask over your mouth and nose.
- Tie it behind your head or use ear loops and make sure it’s snug.
- Don’t touch your mask while wearing it.
- If you accidentally touch your mask, wash or sanitize your hands.
- Remove the mask by untying it or lifting off the ear loops without touching the front of the mask or your face.
- Wash your hands immediately after removing your mask.
- Regularly wash your mask with soap and water in the washing machine. It’s fine to launder it with other clothes.
Finally, here are a few face mask precautions:
- Don’t put masks on anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help.
- Don’t put masks on children under 2 years of age.
- Don’t use face masks as a substitute for social distancing.
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