Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming the new face of America: wearing cloth masks.
Wisconsin state officials strongly recommend people don cloth face coverings in public spaces, but it can be confusing to know how to properly use these masks. Health experts provide some do’s and don’ts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Why you should wear them
The reason behind the recommendation is to add a layer of protection to the public.
“Masks are mainly meant to prevent asymptomatic people from unknowingly spreading the virus,” said Be Safe Wisconsin partner Mary Dorn, health officer and deputy director at Outagamie County Health and Human Services. An estimated 25 percent of people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning they have no symptoms. “It’s more of a selfless act. Just in case you are infected but don’t know it, you will prevent others from getting infected by wearing a mask. That’s why we encourage everyone to wear a cloth face covering. It plays a role in slowing the spread,” Dorn added.
Health officials say people should see cloth face masks as a compliment to the best defense against COVID-19: frequent handwashing and social distancing.
When to wear them
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, it is best to use cloth coverings when faced with these two circumstances:
- You need to leave your home to do “essential activities such as going to work, to the grocery store, pharmacy, banking and enjoying outdoor activities while maintaining physical distancing.”
- You are sick, exhibiting symptoms such as a cough, sneezing, or those of seasonal allergies.
How to wear them
There is a method to wearing cloth face masks to avoid the escape of virus particles and maximize protection.
- Clean your hands before putting on a mask and frequently while wearing it.
- Make sure your mask completely covers your nose and mouth.
- Wear it with the same side always facing outwards.
- Don’t touch your mask while wearing it. If so, clean your hands immediately.
- Don’t continue to wear it once it gets damp from your breath.
- Don’t let the mask gap loosely at the sides or bridge of your nose.
- Don’t leave it resting on your neck when not on your face, to avoid contamination.
How to remove them
What you do with your mask when you take it off is just as important as when you have it on. Your mask can quickly become contaminated with virus particles, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), so it needs to be handled with care to avoid the further spread of germs.
- Grab the ear loops or ties to release the mask from your face.
- Place it in a plastic sealable bag or separate containment area.
- Wash your hands once removed.
- Don’t touch the front of the mask.
- Don’t place your used mask on other items such as clothing, countertops or car seats.
How to clean them
- Wash them frequently, ideally after each use, or at least daily.
- Launder with detergent in hot water; dry on a hot cycle.
- Dispose of masks that are visibly soiled or damaged
Where to find cloth face masks
How to make a mask
Your best bet is to sew your own if you have access to a sewing machine. There are multiple patterns and instructions available online from organizations and hospitals, including the ThedaCare Mask Makers Facebook group.
Wisconsin DHS recommends you approach the mask-making as follows.
- Be sure the mask “tightly encloses the area around the nose and mouth, from the bridge of the nose down to the chin, and extending onto the cheek beyond the corners of the mouth, so no gaps occur when talking or moving.”
- Use breathable yet tightly woven material that is washable and double-layer the fabric. An example would be: outer layer tea cloth, inner layer of a microfleece to wick away moisture.
- For straps, use elastic straps that loop behind the ears.
With face mask in place, public health officials suggest citizens continue to follow CDC guidelines considered to be even better at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus:
- Keep your distance – stand at least 6’ apart from people
- Wash hands frequently
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoid being around sick people
Together, and through our individual actions, we can make an impact on COVID-19 in our communities.