Masks in Times of Plague
I recently posted an article about how important it is to wear masks to reduce disease transmission. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why the world health experts were telling us not to wear masks unless symptoms were present. That's just ridiculous and has no scientific grounding.
After I posted that I got a few direct message ripping me a new one (when the existing one works perfectly well, thank you very much) about how cruel that was to post when there are no masks available. I hear you. But you can make a very effective mask using materials you probably have at home. Use a sewing machine, hand sew it, or even superglue one together if you have to. It's super easy.
But will it filter well enough?
Short answer: yes. You can get great filtration, even equal to that of a commercially made surgical mask, but you have to be judicious about what you choose. After doing a bunch of online research here is what I have found.
These are the cliff notes, folks. Here is the best source article I found comparing various materials.
100% tight weave cotton seems to be the best material. The best by far seems to be a 100% tight weave cotton tea towel.
Use a double layer Way better filtration. Actually, same level of filtration you get from a commercially made surgical mask.
The article points out that kids could have trouble breathing through the tea towel, so they suggest a heavy weight 100% cotton Hanes T-shirt material. I found that to be too hot and saggy. It got stretchy when I wore it longer than an hour. The tea towels get my vote.
But wait. . . don't I need an N95?
See? That's what I thought too. But no. A surgical mask performs well in real world tests to keep people safe from infection. Why? The data is unclear, but researchers speculated a couple of reasons:
Droplets. Aspirated droplets are effectively filtered by surgical masks. That's important because these droplets are the tiny space ships that the coronavirus rides in on to cause disease. Masks will filter these out and a great deal of particles from entering your body.
Face touching. Wearing a mask keeps you from touching your face. We have a huge number of sensory neurons on our faces, so we feel any small anomaly here very quickly. That's why you know when you get a random fiber on your eye lashes, but if that same fiber landed on your shoulder you'd have no clue. Our hands reach to clear any odd feeling on the face without us even thinking about it. Masks reduce your access to your face and that prompts you to become aware about that face touch before it happens. Less face touching = less viral transmission.
How do I make a mask?
It's astonishingly easy. And what the heck else do we have going on right now since most of us are self-quarantined and can't work right now. I made mine of a thin weave cotton but left the sides open so I can slide in a double layer insert made from that kitchen tea towel, as recommended above.
Sewing machine That's the easiest and fastest if you've got one. They go together in minutes this way.
Hand stitched If you don't have a machine, you can stitch one with a needle and thread. Super easy and pretty fast.
Glue it! Use a waterproof glue like superglue or fabric glue to fasten the edges. Who cares?!? Just make them, wear them, wash them after one wearing.
Don't have elastic? Make them with tie on straps. They actually hold better than the elastic and I don't get headaches from them.
My favorite pattern (i.e., the ones that fit the best) is this one:
Be sure to open the PDF and print from there so you get the size right.
Here are the sewing instructions:
Here I am rockin' that bad boy. This is 2 layers of cotton flannel that used to be my favorite shirt (may it rest in pieces). There is a double layer of cotton kitchen tea towel inside of it. One loop goes over my Du 20 point (crown of the head) and the other goes around the back of my neck. I find this fit is the tightest and wiggles the least when you wear it for a couple of hours at a time.
I stitched in a thick twist tie wire (that came with a computer cable I bought some time ago) across the nose so I can crimp it to get a good fit.
Prefer the accordion fold style? Here's a pattern for those.
The magic is in what you use for the inserts. Read the source articles for materials. Make a rational choice for yourself. Make a mask. Save a life.