Your Mask Protects Me, Mine Protects You

Kate outdoors in her homemade face mask (self-portrait)

19 April 2020

Off the topic of nature and on the topic of science …

Face masks are in style now and in Pennsylvania they’re required, starting this evening 19 April 2020 at 8pm, for employees and customers at essential businesses. That includes grocery stores.

Since COVID-19 was first reported in the U.S. on 21 January 2020, the message about face masks has changed. Back then everyone asked, “What face mask will keep me safe?” Since then we’ve learned that staying safe is a community effort. If everyone maintains social distancing and wears a mask the disease can’t spread easily.

Here’s why.

  • We don’t know who has COVID-19 so we don’t know who to isolate:
    • COVID-19 can wait as much as 14 days to make a person feel sick; meanwhile they’re contagious.
  • COVID-19 floats in the air when a contagious person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks or breathes.
    • Coughing: See video below.
    • Singing: When 60 members of the Skagit Valley Chorale met for practice on 10 March someone in the crowd was silently contagious. Three weeks later, two were dead and 45 ill, a more than 75% infection rate. — from CNN, 2 April 2020.
    • Talking: “One January [2020] lunchtime in a car parts company, a worker turned to a colleague and asked to borrow the salt. As well as the saltshaker, in that instant, they shared the new coronavirus.” — from Pass the Salt, Reuters 9 April 2020

Face masks capture and divert the coughs, sneezes, and breaths away from the rest of us.

Unprotected coughs really travel far — further than 6 feet — and they linger in the air. Click on the graphic to see a 3-D simulation of this in the New York Times.

Though a few states still haven’t issued stay-at-home orders — let alone mask-wearing — businesses understand the importance of masks. Walmart is requiring their employees to wear masks nationwide beginning tomorrow, 20 April 2020.

I’m happy to participate in this community effort as you can see in the photo at top. I made(*) my face mask from a cloth napkin + elastic earpieces + a plastic twist tie sewn into the top edge of the mask.

Your mask protects me. Mine protects you. Please wear one.

(*) Here’s a video on how to make the face mask plus the PDF of the pattern. I added this feature: I embedded a plastic-coated twist tie inside the top of the mask to hold the mask to my face so my glasses don’t fog as much.

(photo by Kate St. John, video from Wikimedia Commons, screenshot from the New York Times; click on the image to see the 3-D simulation)

p.s. How well are we doing on social distancing? Check out this Social Distancing Scoreboard that tracks trips and rates each state and county in the U.S.

7 thoughts on “Your Mask Protects Me, Mine Protects You

  1. Love the post. You explained it really well as usual!

    If only my neighbors would stop having get togethers. It’s been several evenings of the last week that I’ve heard goodbyes between 10 and 11 pm. I may have to resort to notes left on their doors…I don’t want to talk to them with their clear disregard for me and the other residents of my building.

    1. Oh my gosh! That’s nasty.
      In a similar strain, last week the Allegheny County Health Dept asked that residents do not practice open burning during COVID-19 — i.e. no fire pits. Two of my neighbors have fire pits and in both instances they invite friends over to enjoy the fire. Double whammy. Fortunately I don’t have to pass though an indoor common area to get past them.

  2. Excellent public service announcement, thanks for making it, Kate. We’re all in this together, and wearing a mask is a simple thing we can do to help keep each other safer than to go without one.

  3. Thanks for the information, Kate. I already made myself a mask following the clear, easy video instructions, and it fits perfectly. My husband said it’s not tall enough for him and the elastic is too short, but it’s easy enough to make those adjustments to make him one.

    Sad to hear about the neighbor gatherings and fire pits. So many people think the guidelines apply to everyone but themselves.

  4. Thanks for the steaming glasses hint. I hope it works for me. Pipe cleaners or floral wire have been mentioned. BUT my thought was better fit, not seeing through the fog.
    Your suggested pattern is the best I have seen.

  5. Thank you for posting this, Kate. On my last trip to the grocery store, I’d say nearly half the shoppers in there weren’t wearing masks and it was both shocking and infuriating. Here’s hoping people get with it.

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