If you aren’t making your own masks at home….
The narrative around face masks has evolved rapidly over the past few weeks. In the early days of the United States’ coronavirus outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention insisted that healthy civilians do not need to wear masks. By last Friday, President Trump was announcing the CDC had reversed its guidance. The institute is now telling all Americans to wear fabric masks or bandanas in public, particularly in crowded places like groceries and pharmacies.
It’s a night-and-day change, one that’s created confusion and incited debate. Many have argued that masks create a false sense of security for the wearer, while others feared a nationwide mask recommendation would cause Americans to panic and buy N95s and other medical-grade masks, which are already in dangerously low supply in hospitals. That’s why the CDC is being hyper-specific about its verbiage, telling the public to use fabric masks, bandanas, and scarves—they’re even urging us to make our own. Whatever we can do to avoid putting additional strain on the medical supply will help doctors and nurses (and, as a result, us).
But what changed the CDC’s mind on “civilian masks?” In addition to witnessing how widespread mask use helped “flatten the curve” in Taiwan, Japan, and other parts of Asia, the CDC found new data around asymptomatic COVID-19 cases. The findings suggest that nearly 25% of all infected cases show no symptoms whatsoever—meaning they’re likely to infect others without knowing it. While a fabric mask won’t absolutely keep you from getting sick or from spreading the virus to others if you’re asymptomatic, it can help by blocking small droplets that carry the coronavirus in a cough or sneeze.
A new study at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is finding that certain fabrics can filter much smaller particles too. By comparing different textiles—thick versus thin, woven versus knit—researchers discovered that heavy-weight cotton with a tight weave and a thread count of 180 or higher performs surprisingly well in filtering small airborne particles. Woven batik was high on the list, too, but the study cautioned against knit fabrics, which tend to have more space between stitches.
That’s useful information for anyone out there making DIY masks at home; you’ve likely seen crafty friends share their results on Instagram by now. It’s a humble and low-tech pivot from our Amazon-everything habit of just a few weeks ago, and it’s inspiring plenty of designers to help too. Last week, Vogue Runway published a report on the surge of interest in fabric masks, spotlighting a few of the designers making them, including Collina Strada’s Hillary Taymour, Kes’s Lia Kes, and Coperni’s Arnaud Vaillant and Sébastien Meyer, who shared a DIY mask pattern on their website. More designers are joining their ranks every day—which is good news for those of us with limited sewing skills. Even better, many of them are using their profits to help buy medical-grade masks for health care workers, who will continuously need our support over the next few months.