The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Washington State Department of Health now recommend that the general public wear cloth face coverings in public places where maintaining social distance can be difficult, such as grocery stores, pharmacies or doctor’s offices — whether you work in one or visit one.
The CDC changed its guidance on cloth face coverings on April 3. Here’s what you should know.
I don’t have coronavirus symptoms. Why should I wear a mask in public?
Wearing a cloth mask or face covering is not mandatory. Consider it a voluntary act of compassion, says the Washington State Department of Health. Some people who get COVID-19 may not show any symptoms, or they may be contagious before they do. By wearing a cloth face covering in public places, you can protect others from a virus you may be carrying without knowing it.
If I wear a mask, does that mean I’m safe?
No. Cloth face coverings are in no way a replacement for other protective measures, and they don’t protect anywhere near as well as regular and thorough hand-washing (with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer), not touching your face and staying away from other people as much as possible, according to the Department of Health.
Wearing a cloth mask “is not going to work if people are not doing social distancing or washing their hands,” says Lauren Jenks of the Washington State Department of Health. “If people are doing those things, [a cloth face covering] might be a good extra layer of protection.”
Can wearing a mask make things more dangerous?
Experts warn a mask can provide a false sense of security, which could be dangerous. “If people choose to go to public places more frequently because they feel safer with a mask on, this will be counterproductive,” says Jenks.
Another concern is that while wearing a mask, people will touch their mask or face more often and contaminate their face or hands.
Certain groups of people should also be cautious. The CDC and Department of Health say cloth face coverings should not be placed on children younger than 2 (they may not have the dexterity to remove the mask should it start to restrict their breathing). The CDC also says people who are having trouble breathing or are unable to remove a mask without assistance should not wear one.
If I want a cloth mask, what kind should it be and where can I get one?
You probably have the materials you need at home. The Department of Health says a cloth face covering can be any fabric that covers the nose and mouth, including a piece of fabric tied around your head. It can also be a homemade or factory-made cloth mask secured with ties or straps around the head or behind the ears.
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I work in a nonmedical essential business. Is my employer required to give me a mask?
Employers can recommend that employees cover their faces with cloth, but the state’s departments of Health and Labor & Industries do not require employers to give face masks to employees or make them mandatory in the workplace.
Does the CDC recommend the use of surgical or N95 masks for the general public?
No. The CDC recommends face coverings made out of fabric, not surgical masks or N95 respirators. The CDC says it’s critical that those masks are saved for health care workers and medical first responders. The general public does not need this level of protection.
If you have N95 respirators or surgical masks (or other much-needed health care supplies), consider donating them. There are various ways to do so. If you have a large supply, consider a bulk donation. To donate small quantities, you can contact your local emergency management agency or check the Washington State Hospital Association website, which lists whom to contact near or in your city. Labor unions have also developed a website for donations.
If you live in Seattle, the city has set up an online personal protective equipment donation form to arrange pickup for unused supplies in unopened boxes or sealed packages. If you’ve opened the packaging but have not used the masks, contact the Seattle Mask Brigade. They can pick up your masks anywhere in the greater Seattle area.
If I make or wear a cloth mask, what should I pay attention to?
Cloth face coverings should cover both your mouth and nose with multiple layers of fabric, allow for breathing without restriction and fit snugly against your face, according to the CDC. Make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
Making masks: Don’t make masks if you are sick or think you might be getting sick. Even if you feel fine and don’t think you’re getting sick, wash your hands before handling any mask-making materials, sanitize work surfaces and tools with disinfectant and keep materials away from other household members as much as possible, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries advises.
Wearing a mask: Before putting on a mask, make sure to thoroughly clean your hands. Also avoid touching the mask while wearing it. If you do, wash your hands again. Once you have the mask on, leave it there and try not to touch it or adjust it. Replace the mask with a new one if it gets damp.
Removing the mask: Do not touch the front of the mask, only the ear loops, ties or band. Also be careful not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth while taking the mask off, and wash hands immediately after removing.
Cleaning the mask: Wash your cloth face covering after each use, or at least daily. Workers who can’t socially distance themselves can wear a cloth mask all day, but it’s important to wash the mask by the end of the day. You can wash face cloths in the washing machine (Not apply for the Reuseable 3ply Antibacterial Fabric Face Mask). Use detergent and hot water and dry on a hot cycle. (Follow the instruction of each product)