Recent events have placed homemade cloth face masks in the public spotlight as a tool that may help minimize the spread of coronavirus. However, people are asking questions such as:

  • What are N95 respirators and surgical masks, and who should wear one? 
  • Who should wear a cloth mask?
  • Will a mask (cloth or surgical) protect me from the coronavirus?
  • How do I effectively use a cloth mask?
  • Where can I get a pattern to make a cloth mask?
  • Can I help my community by making masks?

What are N95 respirators and surgical masks, and who should wear one?

N95 respirators and surgical masks are examples of common, professional-grade equipment used to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face. They are commonly used in hospitals and medical settings to keep employees and clients safe. They are made to meet specific health standards and are very good at limiting the spread of viruses. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators or surgical-grade masks since there is currently a shortage due to increased demand related to the coronavirus. The CDC recommends that these masks be used by healthcare professionals only until the shortage of these masks has been resolved.

 Who should wear a cloth mask?

The CDC recommends that people over the age of 2 wear a mask when in public settings such as a grocery store, post office or pharmacy. Cloth masks are proposed because surgical and N95 masks are in short supply. 

Will a mask (cloth or surgical) protect me from the Coronavirus?

No. The masks mostly prevent others from possibly catching the virus from you. One of the challenges of stopping the spread of the coronavirus is that individuals can be infected with the virus but may not show symptoms (referred to as asymptomatic) for up to 14 days after becoming infected, and in some cases an infected individual may never show symptoms.  Infected individuals may not know they are infected and thus continue their normal routine, which could infect many other individuals in their communities. If an asymptomatic individual wears a mask, the chance of them infecting other members of their community is reduced.

 How do I effectively use a cloth mask?

A cloth mask should be snug but comfortable next to the side of your face and held with ear loops or ties around the head. Individuals should not touch their eyes or mouth when taking off the mask and wash their hands right after removing the mask. The mask should be washed often to keep it clean.

 Where can I get a pattern to make a cloth mask?

Many patterns exist. The CDC has mask patterns that require sewing and others that do not require any sewing. The Colorado Mask Project also has patterns, guides, and videos available on how to make cloth masks. 


 Can I help my community by making masks?

Yes. Many of us would like to help our communities get through this. Since medical staff will need to use the surgical masks and N95 respirators, making and wearing a cloth mask is a good idea. Not only are you saving the medical-grade masks for medical professionals, but you are actively helping to limit the impact of the coronavirus by reducing the spread of the virus through our communities, specifically by individuals that are asymptomatic. This helps your community stay healthy, and less people who become infected means less people need to be treated in our hospitals by health care professionals. Making masks for friends and neighbors is a great way to help your community, just don’t gather in large groups when making masks.