As social distancing continues, more people are covering their faces when they need to leave home for grocery shopping and other essential activities.
Advice from local and national health agencies is mixed, but all agree that medical-grade masks, such as N-95 respirators and surgical masks, should be reserved for health care workers and first responders.
The latest recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control is to wear a cloth face covering in public settings where people from different households are relatively close together, namely grocery stores and pharmacies. People should still try to keep at least 6 feet apart.
The California Department of Public Health is leaving it up to individuals and local areas to decide whether they want to wear face coverings. Some counties and cities have opted for more stringent guidelines. In Los Angeles and in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, for example, people are required to use a cloth face covering most of the time when they are outside of their homes.
In San Joaquin County, using a face covering is voluntary, but social distancing is mandatory, and staying home and washing hands often are still the best defenses against infection.
The county public health officer, Dr. Maggie Park, acknowledged that people “might feel more comfortable wearing a covering” and made a video about how to use them safely.
Covering one’s mouth and nose can help slow the spread of the virus, especially by people who might have the virus but not have symptoms. Cloth masks should be washed regularly.
People who feel unwell or who have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 should not go out, even with a mask.
Another possible advantage to wearing a mask is that it could help remind other people to take distancing guidelines seriously and stay at least 6 feet away.
Cloth face coverings can be sewn using a variety of free patterns available online, or they can be improvised using common clothing and household items, even if you don’t sew. The CDC has provided tutorials for sewn and no-sew face coverings, including a video guide for a mask made from a folded bandanna and two rubber bands.