To be crystal clear, given the shortage of N95 respirators and other PPE, it is critical that these supplies are reserved for frontline workers. Even if you can find them, please do not go out and buy N95 respirators or surgical masks.
If you have them already, and you are not in a high risk group, please donate them! In MA, Governor Baker setup this donation portal https://www.mass.gov/covid-19-ppe-procurement-and-donation-program. I am sure there are other donation centers in other states or even at the local level.
Now we have that out of the way, should we or shouldn’t we use face masks? Well the answer is not so simple, it’s a maybe.
Only a properly fitted N95 respirator will protect you from infection by another person. But even if it is properly fitted, do you know how to remove it without contaminating yourself? Additionally, N95 respirators cannot be effectively decontaminated and studies this week show that the virus can persist on the outside surface of the respirator for at least 5 days! So unless you are a medical professional, with access to a supply of properly fitted N95 respirators that you can wear and dispose of, you should not be wearing them. Period!
For you and I, wearing a home-made mask will slightly reduce your chances of infection, but it will significantly reduce the chances that you infect another person. Your respiratory droplets, rather than being dispersed into the 6ft space around you, will be caught and trapped on the inside of the mask. This significantly lowers amount of infectious respiratory droplets landing and persisting on surfaces.
If you were to get a mild case of COVID-19 in your home, where you have to perform home care, you will want a mask on the sick person. That will protect the caregiver, and the other members of the family.
There is also a growing consensus that when the physical distancing restrictions begin to be lifted, possibly in May, wearing masks may be part of the new normal, and possibly a requirement in certain public settings.
I think it is time that we all explored mask making and mask wearing. For those with no sewing talent, simple items can be used as a mask, such as a scarf or bandana. I have even seen video on how to use men’s boxer briefs as a mask…. But I’m not that desperate.
But you could invest a little bit of time and a significant amount of personality into mask masking. This is one of the best templates I have found (Thanks, Jen!). The great part about the design of these particular fabric masks is they have enhanced wearer protection AND they can be washed and reused many times.
Once you have the mask, here’s an activity that is should be done for safety, and its a lot of fun.
If you are wearing a mask, and an infected person breaths, coughs, or sneezes on you. Can you take the mask off without contaminating yourself or your environment? Here’s the fun part. Make your mask. Wear your mask. Then get one of your kids to cover the entire mask in shaving cream. Can you get the mask off and into a safe space without getting shaving cream on anything? Practice this!
Note: Masks, once on, should not be touched until you are ready to remove it and not wear it again until it's washed. When they are taken off, you should be putting the mask into a bucket of soapy water, or a plastic bag, and then washed. Masks highly concentrate both your respiratory particles and air particles in a very small area (the mask surface). The masks must be treated as contaminated and they must be washed regularly!