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Covid-19 Protection: What You Need To Know About Face Coverings

N95 mask graphic.

Late last week, the CDC recommended that people wear simple, cloth face coverings to protect against COVID-19 “as a voluntary health measure” when they are in public settings, such as at the grocery store or pharmacy.
     Likewise, last Friday Gov. Charlie Baker advised all residents to wear masks when going out in public as the state continues to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Baker said the Department of Public Health advisory is consistent with recommendations issued by the CDC. Everyone should wear a mask in public if they cannot maintain a six-foot distance from others, he said.
     “This protects you from others and protects others from you. It works both ways,” Baker added.
     The CDC guidance specifies cloth because scarce surgical masks and N95 respirators must be reserved for medical personnel and first responders. Children under the age of 2 shouldn’t wear face coverings, nor should anyone who is having trouble breathing or cannot volition remove the covering of their own.
     According to research into other respiratory illnesses spread by airborne droplets, such as COVID-19, face coverings can reduce the risk of spreading the disease. Although they are no substitute for personal protective equipment, the coverings are considered especially useful in preventing asymptomatic people from infecting others.
     With data beginning to show that at least 25% of COVID-19 infected people don’t show symptoms, the decision to wear a face covering in a community setting seems a wise addition to the existing list of precautions, such as handwashing, staying at home, and social distancing.
     Meanwhile, with medical masks too scarce to share with the public at large, and without research into what exactly makes for the most effective homemade mask, the covering we each choose to make and wear amounts to a personal choice. The CDC website offers instructions using everyday materials, such as bandanas and elastic bands. Other options include no-sew T-shirt masks, simple hand-sewn or taped-together coverings, and tailored masks requiring sewing skills, a machine, and elastic. The Johns Hopkins Medicine website (hopkinsmedicine. org) and Emerson Hospital ( offer instructions; wash your fabric in hot water to avoid shrinkage later.
     To avoid spreading the virus through the incorrect use of face coverings, consider the following guidelines for fabric coverings, and note that single-use paper masks should not be reused, according to the World Health Organization.
     CDC guidelines for washing a fabric face covering
• They should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use. 
• Individuals should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose, and mouth when removing their face covering and 
• Wash hands immediately after removing.”
Guidelines from the Johns Hopkins Research Center for Safety and Occupational Health
• Wash your hands with soap and water before you put on the mask.
• If your mask has ties, secure the bottom ties first with a bow around the nape of your neck. Then pull the mask by the upper ties over your mouth and chin and secure around your head.
• Wash your hands every time you touch your mask. (Yes, every time.)
• Wash your mask every time you remove it and wash your hands with soap and water after removing the mask. Put the mask somewhere isolated until it can be washed.
• Assume that there could be virus on both sides of the mask any time you touch it.
• Wear a clean mask each time you need to put one on.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Johns Hopkins Research Center for Safety and Occupational Health; World Health Organization.
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