Excerpts from NPR Post April 3, 20206:56 PM ET
The new face covering policies come with the vital plea that people DO NOT use the medical-grade masks that are in short supply in hospitals right now.
That means one thing: The era of the homemade masks and face-coverings is upon us.
Can face coverings prevent the spread of the virus?
The primary benefit of covering your nose and mouth is that you protect others.
While there is still much to be learned about the novel coronavirus, it appears that many people who are infected are shedding the virus – through coughs, sneezes and other respiratory droplets – for 48 hours before they start feeling sick. And others who have the virus – up to 25%, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield — may never feel symptoms but may still play a role in transmitting it.
That’s why wearing a mask even if you don’t feel sick can be a good idea.
What about homemade masks?
As NPR has previously reported, some research has shown that cotton T-shirt material and tea towels might help block respiratory droplets emitting from sick people — though it’s not clear how much protection they provide.
Another study, of health care workers in Vietnam, found that use of cloth masks resulted in greater infection than either those wearing surgical masks or a control group, some of whom also wore surgical masks.
We don’t yet know exactly how effective homemade masks are, but Griffin thinks they’re a good idea — he’s even taken to wearing one over his N95 respirator.
How often do I need to wash it?
Griffin says to think of a mask as like underwear: It needs to be washed after each use.
“You don’t take this dirty mask off, put it in your purse and then stick it back on your face,” he says. “It’s something that once you put on, is potentially either touching your coughs, sneezes or the spray of your speech, or protecting you from the coughs, spray, speech of other people. And now it’s dirty. It needs to basically be either discarded or washed.”
So, if you’re wearing a cloth mask, put it into the laundry basket immediately. If it’s disposable, throw it away.
It’s a big no-no to pull the mask down to eat a snack, then pull it back up: You’ve just gotten whatever dirty stuff is on the mask on your hands and into your mouth.
NOTE: Masks are not a replacement for all the other steps we need to take right now to protect ourselves from the coronavirus – especially social distancing and good hand hygiene.