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CDC recommends wearing a fabric mask when it's hard to maintain social distancing

The CDC is urging Americans to wear fabric masks in places where it's hard to maintain distance from others.

Do you need to wear a face covering the next time you leave your home? No, but new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention urge Americans to wear a face mask when making trips to the grocery store or other locations where it's difficult to maintain social distancing. 

There isn't enough evidence to guarantee that a homemade face mask will prevent people from contracting the novel coronavirus in a public setting, but it's better than nothing. 

Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director with the Minnesota Department of Health, said that staying home when sick, hand washing, covering your cough and social distancing are still more effective ways to avoid getting sick. 

"Individuals who are sick should be staying home and isolating themselves," said Ehresmann. "A mask is not intended to be an excuse to be out in the world. The goal of masks is to help prevent your germs from infecting others.

"Your mask protects the person that is across from you, not you. The person across from you who is wearing a mask, their mask is protecting you. A mask is a secondary protection, sort of a belt and suspenders approach."

Essentially, wearing a mask could help prevent someone from spreading the disease while they're asymptomatic. But no one should be buying or wearing surgical or N95 respirator masks, which are in high demand at healthcare facilities amid a global shortage. 

The State Emergency Operations Center reiterates Ehresmann's words about the effectiveness masks.

"Remember, masks are not a substitute for social distancing. They can protect others from you if you are ill and don't know it. It also helps prevent droplets from coughs or sneezes from spreading. If you decide to wear a mask, do not use medical grade or surgical supply masks. They are desperately needed by health care workers."

Since buying masks is nearly impossible at this point, the CDC has directions for making your own at home, which is doable by cutting a t-shirt or using a coffee filter. When completed, a mask should: 

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

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