Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially recommended that Americans wear cloth face coverings (masks) in public to help slow the spread of COVID-19. This recommendation was made based on studies that show a significant portion of people with COVID-19 lack symptoms and can transmit the virus to others in close proximity, through speaking, coughing, sneezing, or other means.

“My mask protects you, and your mask protects me.”

This short and easy-to-remember explanation is often offered as to why it is important for everyone to wear a mask in public, even if they do not feel sick. While the best ways to avoid the virus remain social distancing, washing your hands, and keeping your hands away from your face, it is nearly impossible to avoid going out in public when essential services are needed.

“If you must go out in public, wear a cloth mask to protect others from COVID-19,” said Sherry Ellem, Creating Health Communities Program Manager for the Washington County Health Department. “There is evidence that people who do not have symptoms can spread the virus through coughs, sneezes, or even just breathing. Because of this, we trust you to help the broader community by wearing a mask that covers the nose and mouth securely.”

Ellem said it’s also important to assume your mask is contaminated and wash it often. Even with a mask, it is important to stay at least six feet away from others, to refrain from touching your face as much as possible, and to wash your hands frequently.

“If you do have symptoms or are in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, please stay home and contact your local health department or medical provider,” Ellem advised.

While it is an increasingly more common sight to see folks wearing masks in the grocery store or picking up an order, many are still not covering their face while out in public. This can be dangerous, particularly around vulnerable community members.

“We wear masks to better protect ourselves when being around the public and in ‘high’ trafficked areas,” said Madeson Barr, Manager and Co-Owner of Scots Landscape Nursery in Vienna, WV. “We want to ensure our loved ones that we’re taking the necessary steps to best prevent others and ourselves from getting sick. It’s just not worth the risk!”

Caleb and Madeson Barr wearing handsewn masks and gloves

For Wendy Gibson Mills, R.D.H., there was no question. “I wear a face mask because I’m a dental hygienist and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt it helps!” she said. “It keeps your germs to yourself. I mean, just think about how you’d feel if you learned you were a carrier and you made someone else deathly ill.” Mills said her mother’s advice comes to mind: “It’s just good old fashion common horse sense!”

While all are encouraged to wear a cloth mask when in public, medical masks are not for public use. “Our health care workers need all they can get,” said Ellem. Instead, cloth masks can be purchased or made by hand following a recommended pattern.

Local master sewer Loni Jakubowski of Havin’ Sew Much Fun shared this step-by-step guide to sewing a mask following a preferred pattern shared by Camden Clark Medical Center. Instructions can also be found here, on the CDC’s website, for no-sew masks that can easily be made from a recycled t-shirt or a bandana.

The CDC notes that cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under the age of two, or on anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance. More information and recommendations regarding wearing a face mask can be found here.

While wearing a mask does not replace social distancing measures, it can help prevent the spread of the virus and protect others in our community.

“In many cultures around the world, wearing a mask is just part of the culture – it is a socially accepted act of kindness,” said Ohio Governor DeWine during a press conference earlier this month.

“Wearing a mask should not scare people. It is a good thing. It is a considerate thing. It is a courageous thing.”