I WILL be another year older in a few days, but I felt like I was born yesterday when I learned something that most of my friends already seemed to know: Cloth masks alone do not offer much protection against the virus.
I prefer wearing cloth masks to reduce landfill waste. Many of us have bought or made our own so that stocks of surgical masks can go to frontliners or others who really need them. But I have been going to the supermarket and pharmacy wearing a cloth mask without knowing that it should have a filter. Public advisories, news articles and medical organizations all urge or require us to wear masks. However, most of what I have read did not mention using a mask filter. When I brought up the topic, I felt like the last among my friends to know this.
“Cloth masks are advised as alternatives to reduce the use of surgical masks by low risk people. It’s better than nothing, but only prevents virus transmission by a very low percentage, if, for example, a droplet gets on your mask, or you are sick and coughing. That’s why social distancing is important,” explained Marian Briones-Ting, M.D., when I asked her. “If you are not coughing, sick, or have any symptoms and are just going to do errands, cloth masks with filters are okay.”
Go out only when necessary, stay a safe distance away from other people, and wash your hands frequently. For added peace of mind when heading out with a cloth mask:
* Choose one in a tightly-woven fabric, such as canvas or denim.
* Check that it has a filter pocket. (I’m definitely cutting slits in all of my cloth masks that don’t have filter pockets.)
* For the filter, use polypropylene (the coarse material that washable gift or grocery bags are made of), coffee filters, or, if unavailable, paper towels or tissue. One study I read online said even a bra pad works!
* Make sure the mask has a snug fit when worn, completely covering your nose and mouth, and avoid touching or readjusting.