Everything You Need to Know about Face Masks

Bella LeJuerrne and Elly Keyes


Elly Keyes and Bella LeJuerrne

As cases of the coronavirus have increased in the United States, many precautions have been taken to attempt and stop its spread. Changes such as stay-at-home orders, limiting the number of people that can shop in a store at a time, or the closing of schools. Standing out among these new precautions is the presence of face masks. Face masks have become a recommended piece of protective equipment not only for medical workers, but also for the general public, and as a result of the following shortage, many have begun learning to make their own cloth masks while in quarantine. These masks will prevent the spread of the virus between people when out in public, and can be used, or donated.

Why Masks?

Though it is assumed that masks protect the wearer from the coronavirus, this is not the case. Most masks do not protect the person wearing them from what is in the air. Instead, masks protect those around you from what you breath out. Homemade masks serve the purpose of blocking what the wearer breathes out, and therefore preventing others from breathing it in. In this way, wearing masks protects those around you in case you are carrying the virus but are unaware or have not shown symptoms. According to the CDC, these masks can be necessary because twenty-five percent of carriers will not be aware they have it, but will still play a role in transmitting it. Though studies are inconclusive, most have found that wearing a mask helps block some respiratory droplets emitted from sick people. Masks will also act as a barrier between your mouth and the air, meaning that they can block large droplets, however, in order for this to be effective it is necessary to wear the mask properly, and to sanitize it after each use. 

Homemade Masks in the Medical Field

Homemade cloth masks have become an essential part of the protective equipment used by medical workers caring for COVID-19 patients. Due to the growing number of cases and the increasing need for workers, hospitals and healthcare centers have seen a shortage in face masks. 

“I initially just started reaching out to friends who were on the front lines figuring, I’m not an expert in masks but they would know if they were able to wear these or not. And I really kind of expected most people to not be interested or to just think ‘these are homemade I’m not going to take one’ and kind of the opposite was true. I think I only had to reach out to one or two friends, and they immediately accepted. And what was most interesting to me was the people who I went to high school with who I do not chat with anymore. They reached out to me, a lot of them asking me if I had any more available, because they had been looking for masks and couldn’t find them anywhere. That really kind of confirmed the need for it, when people I’m not friends with anymore reached out.” Jenni Daley said.

Mrs. Daley teaches journalism at Shawnee Heights, and became aware of the face mask shortage while talking to friends who work in the medical field. When a friend reached out to her after hearing she might have access to a 3D printer through the school, Mrs. Daley didn’t hesitate to look into it. After contacting design teacher Mr. Loy to figure out how they worked, she got approval from Mr. West to take the 3D printers home and start producing masks that could be donated to regional doctors and nurses. In addition, both NHS and STUCO were asked to provide funding to get the project started. Mrs. Daley has made 56 masks, and half of these have been donated to various doctors and nurses as the need for them increased. 

Though the typical mask doesn’t require a 3D printer in order to make each piece, Mrs. Daley has begun making a particular kind of mask known as an n95. Her masks in particular were developed from a template she had found online that was created by a group of dentists, who also find these necessary when working. One mask is made up of three plastic pieces, the actual mask, the filter plate, and the elastic clips. For a filter, Mrs. Daley chose to use a material that is used in air filters. 

“Originally it’s like a home air filter. You can purchase different levels of those, some of them filter out 50 percent of allergens. People who have really bad allergies try to buy the best home filters. This one in particular is the best you can buy, it’s actually pretty small. This is the material that is used, and once you deconstruct it, this material is the actual filter, and the filter is something called HEPA certified and basically what HEPA means is that it will filter out 99.7 percent of particles. Regular n95 masks are HEPA certified.” Mrs. Daley said.

These masks are most needed for the medical setting because they provide a tighter fit for the wearer, and the filters that can be used with these masks will filter out over 95 percent of particles in the air according to the CDC. However, these masks are not necessary for simply going to the store or outside, and are most needed for those working directly with Covid-19 patients.

However, homemade surgical masks are also a need in the medical community as they still provide workers with the protection necessary in different cases. The standards that should be met will vary with the healthcare center that is being donated to, but it is typically requested that masks being donated be made of 100 percent cotton fabric, and be in a pleated pattern, which allows them to better fit the wearer. In addition, when donating homemade masks it is recommended that each side of the mask is a different pattern, which allows the wearer to keep track of which side has been exposed to the air. Find out where to donate masks by researching where they are most needed in your area. Or visit the websites of hospitals in the Topeka area, such as Stormont Vail. Hospitals will typically give step-by-step instructions on how to make masks that meet standards.

“There are a lot of tutorials online on how to make the homemade masks, not the HEPA certified, just what you would use in the grocery store. I would say part of the industry that I think has been over-looked quite a bit is the nursing home industry,” Mrs. Daley said. “So I think right now a lot of people have reached out to ER doctors and ICU nurses to help get them equipment they need. But one of the really scary things is when an outbreak occurs in a nursing home. So I have several former students who are now CNAs in nursing homes in Topeka and Kansas City, and I think people aren’t thinking about those types of medical workers, and so that’s what I would recommend. Is trying to make masks and reaching out to nursing homes. And even residents could wear those as well.”

While many have donated to hospitals, nursing homes have also had some trouble getting masks, however, these are still considered essential in maintaining the health of residents.

“At the Nursing Home that I’m at right now we have to wear one of the surgical masks 24/7 while we’re there. We use it pretty much as soon as we clock in, we put them on and can’t take them off unless: ‘Oh I’m in the nurse’s station I’m just going to take a quick breather.’ But when we’re around residents or each other, other employees, we pretty much wear them 24/7. Especially when we’re dealing with the food and all that because they’re trying to prevent us from giving it to the residents or each employee giving it to each other. So we use the surgical one and then we double layer it with– our work has provided us with cloth ones that were donated from someone that made them— so we just double layer them for more protection.” McGinley said.

McGinley has been a CNA for three years, and has noticed the changes being made to her retirement center as they prepared for the coronavirus, as well as increasing precautions being taken. She described new measures being taken when clocking into work each day, such as filling out a questionnaire required for employees as well as visitors, which asks if she has traveled to locations where coronavirus has spread, or if she is experiencing symptoms. She then has her temperature taken and recorded so it can be reviewed each day to ensure that no one exhibiting symptoms comes into contact with residents, who are more susceptible to the virus than others.

“I think our company has done a really good job of making sure all of us are protected. I think a struggle definitely is making sure you’re washing you’re hands extra– we already have to wash our hands because we care for resident after resident– but it’s like, as soon as you come out of a room you have to wash your hands or you can’t touch the mask to even breath for a second. So those are some struggles– but I don’t know if I’d qualify them as struggles because it’s just caring for the residents, it’s just what I’m supposed to be doing. I think a struggle for most people during the pandemic for CNAs is: even if we get a cough or a fever not even related to the coronavirus, we can’t go into work, so we’re not making money. So that kind of sucks, but we’re just doing what we’re supposed to do.” McGinley said. 

Helping from Home

There are many ways to help out during this pandemic, whether it’s make masks, or to just make sure that you are keeping up with precautions such as wearing masks when you go out in public, or taking your temperature daily and keeping track of your health.

“I’d say definitely don’t wear the same clothes, wash your clothes. Don’t wear gloves when going out in public because you’re definitely cross-contaminating. I think it’s definitely not helping at all. I think it’s good to wear masks out in public, but if you don’t have one then: stay six feet away from people. Say you have grandparents, they’re already more susceptible to it, stay away from elderly because you don’t want to get them infected. Shower, keep up with hygiene, wash your hands before and after you eat. Check your temperature daily. Even if you think you feel fine you could be carrying it. I read something the other day that said ‘even if you think you’re fine take your temperature, log household temperatures, or keep track of symptoms.’ Stay quarantined as long as you can.” McGinley said.

Maintaining Face Masks

For those who are using cloth masks, it is important to sanitize after every use. To do this, throw the mask in the washing machine after every use using regular laundry detergent. You can add products like Oxyclean or color-safe bleach for an extra level of cleaning. If you do not have access to a washing machine, you can also hand-wash your mask. Be diligent while hand-washing your mask, as touching the outside of the mask could result in cross-contamination. It is important to use hot water and antibacterial soap to sanitize your mask. Whichever method you use, make sure to use plenty of detergent or soap. Do not just rely on using sunlight to kill any potential virus on the mask, as it required the light to be at a specific wavelength to be efficient. The sunlight can be unreliable and and the weather can vary dramatically. Furthermore, avoid using sprays and cleaners on the mask, as the chemicals in the sprays can be harmful to the wearer of the mask. It is a much safer and reliable option to use a washing machine or hand-wash your mask. Once your mask is clean, make sure to dry it in a dryer or on a clothesline. A cloth mask should be washed after every use. To avoid contaminating your mask after it has been washed, put it in a paper bag, and make sure to keep it from touching any common surface in your house. 

Credit: Jenny Chang-Rodriguez / TODAY

When worn, masks should completely cover the nose and mouth. Your mask, when worn, should have the least amounts of gaps between it and your face possible. These gaps would allow the air to go through the gaps, instead of through the mask as a path of least resistance. This helps filter the air before you breath it in or out. The mask should not be uncomfortable, as there will be some gaps, and should fit towards the bridge of the nose, but the less gaps there are, the better. Make sure you wash your hands before and after you put on your mask, and try not to touch the outside of the mask when taking it off. This could result in cross-contamination. 

Credit: Jenny Chang-Rodriguez / TODAY

How to Make a Face Mask From Home

Many people have resulted in making their own masks for personal use to places like the grocery store. You can sew your own mask, or use pre-sewn items around your house to make one. To sew a mask, you need some kind of sewing tool, such as a needle and thread or a sewing machine, scissors, pins or clips, a 20” x 20” or larger piece of fabric, and four strips for ties (this could be cotton or shoe laces). Wash and dry your fabric on the highest temperature setting available, and then fold your fabric in half to measure 10” x 7”. Cut four strips 18” in length and ¾” in width. Fold you ties in half lengthwise, and then sew to reinforce and neaten edges. Pin your ties at what will be the corners of your mask, and rest the excess tie material inside the fabric rectangle. Place the other layer of mask material on top of the first mask layer to ‘sandwich’ together all of the ties. Sew around the perimeter of the mask, leaving a ½” gap at the top. Sew the ties down and reinforce with several stitches. Use the ½” gap to turn the mask inside out, and to make the mask fit better, fold pleats in the top layer. Pin these downs and sew around the perimeter. If you can not sew, use other materials such as a anti-microbial pillowcase, scarf, bandana, dish towel, or cotton blend t-shirt to substitute. Cloth face masks should not be used for children under the age of two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or someone who could potentially be unable to remove the mask without assistance. Cloth face masks are recommended by the CDC for the public, and not the n95 respirators or surgical masks used by healthcare professionals. 

Credit: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Masks made at home can allow for creative expression, and can bring out a little joy especially in these time of fear. Sellers on Etsy are creating masks using vibrant fabrics and  colorful patterns. Kids can even have fun with their masks, as a creator on Etsy is crocheting masks with Disney themes of showcasing other popular characters. Some shops are selling face masks, too, such as  Sanctuary, Buck Mason, Alice and Olivia, Jack + Mulligan, Caraa and American Blanket Company, as well as creators on Etsy. 

While masks aid in the prevention of the spread of Covid-19, for those who can stay home, social distancing is the most efficient way to help. So, when you can, refrain from going out in public to decrease the risks and dangers, and aid health workers in fighting off Covid-19.