With more and more chief medical health officers and world and American organizations like the CDC suggesting that wearing cloth face coverings is allowable, recommended and even mandatory, sewing machines across the world are furiously churning out non-medical grade face masks to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic. But before you go out and make or buy a cloth mask remember these important points:
First, a cloth face mask will not prevent you from catching COVID-19. Staying home, washing your hands and physical distancing are your most essential and first lines of defence.
Second, remember that cloth masks are not an adequate substitute for surgical masks or N95 respirators. But surgical masks and N95 respirators are in short supply and we must not take that supply away from the urgent needs of front-line health care workers.
Third, while wearing a cloth mask can help act as a barrier from one expelling potentially contagious droplets, that should not give you a false sense of security that you will not spread or contract COVID-19. And while peer reviewed studies have shown that a cloth mask is better than none, without proper protocols for their use and care, wearing a cloth mask can potentially put you at greater risk of infection.
When the team at Aisle learned that there are certain situations where individuals will not have access to surgical masks or N95 respirators and cannot safely practice physical distancing, we mobilized our efforts to make 1,500 cloth masks for front-line workers on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Because users will wear the masks at their own risk, we developed a set of instructions for their proper care, use and handling.
While we are not medical professionals, we consulted medical professionals for their advice in preparing the instructions. A downloadable version is here, and repeated below.
We welcome and applaud those who are making cloth masks and other face coverings. Here is the mask pattern we came up with for our community. Feel free to use and share it. But, please remember, using a non-medical mask comes with risks on its use and care and they should always go with instructions.
Fabric masks are not intended to replace surgical masks or N95 respirators. Use only when surgical masks are unavailable. Use at your own risk. Wearing a mask does not replace other important public health control measures such as hand-washing, social distancing, covering your cough and cleaning surfaces.
Putting on the mask
- Wash your hands thoroughly before putting on the mask
- Insert the additional filter (if available) evenly in the pocket on the inside of the mask
- Loop the top string around the upper back of your head
- Pull the strings on either side of your face snugly
- Adjust the mask over your nose and in line with or just under your chin
- Tie the ends of the strings at the base of your head
Wearing the mask
- Try to touch it as little as possible while you are wearing it, and if you do, wash your hands immediately
- Ensure that the mask is washed every day, ensuring that you have first removed and disposed of the filter, if applicable.
- Do not reuse filters.
- Do not wear a mask for longer than one day without washing it
- Remove and replace the mask if it becomes uncomfortably saturated with moisture
- If you find that having the string at the top of your head is slipping, consider adapting the mask to fit over your ears. To do this, cut the string in half, then tie a new knot on each side of the mask, adjusting to fit snugly. These knots can be left in permanently
Removing, cleaning and storing the mask
- Wear gloves if available to remove mask
- Remove the mask by only touching the ties, and avoid touching the front of a used mask.
- Remove and discard the filter
- Put and keep the used mask in a sealed plastic bag until you are able to launder it
- Make a slip-knot at the end of the strings of the mask. This will ensure that the strings stay in the channels at the sides of the mask while it is being washed. Ensure that you are able to easily undo the knot (do not tie it too tightly)
- Machine wash in warm water and detergent and machine dry hot/cotton setting. Avoid fabric softeners.
- Wash hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds if you touch the mask during removal or when washing
- Store in a dry, ventilated space, separating the masks. Do not stack them on top of one another or store in a plastic bag