Health officials urge public to don face masks amid COVID-19 outbreak

Shoppers at Trader Joes in Valencia wear masks and gloves as they enter the store. Dan Watson/The Signal

As COVID-19 developments continue and medical professionals across the nation work around the clock to save lives, Americans are now advised to wear cloth face coverings in public to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health officials said Friday that people should wear face coverings when out to do essential errands, such as grocery shopping and to leave the surgical-grade masks to medical professionals. 

“For everyone who is an essential worker, working in health care or working with people who are ill need to make sure that they have the protection they need to do their best jobs and that means they need to have access to all of the N95 (masks) and all of the surgical masks that are in our depleting stocks,” said Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of Public Health, on Friday during a live briefing. 

For the rest of the public, wearing cloth face coverings will become needed when “out to do your essential purchases,” said Ferrer. 

These recommendations come following the latest guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease and Prevention, according to President Trump on Friday during a White House live briefing. 

“The CDC is advising the use of nonmedical cloth face covering as a voluntary health measure,” he said. “It is voluntary. The CDC is not recommending the use of medical-grade or surgical grade masks.” 

Medical professionals have had to reuse or opt for non-medical-grade masks due to a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment, which has prompted health officials to reiterate that the public must use makeshift respirators should they decide to use them. Already, many have been seen wearing bandanas, scarfs or home-made masks. 

There is limited evidence to support that using cloth face coverings could help reduce disease transmission but the goal is “to reduce the release of infectious particles into the air when someone speaks, coughs, or sneezes, including someone who has COVID-19 but feels well,” according to the California Department of Public Health. 

Ferrer recommended that individuals can make their own masks, saying in a Thursday county briefing that, “They’re very simple to make. There’s nothing fancy about them.” 

Tonya (cq) Nelson puts finishing touches on a mask at No Strings Attached Costumes in Saugus on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

Kaiser Permanente offers step-by-step instructions for those interested in creating their own fabric face masks, said spokeswoman Chelsi Schriver.

“Even homemade masks need to meet certain specifications in order to be effective,” read the instructions, which can be found on Kaiser’s website

One appropriate way to make a mask, per Kaiser, is to use cotton fabric and wash the material two to three times before cutting. 

“These masks will be laundered over and over again and we don’t want them to shrink. Use cotton because it is breathable and can withstand excessive laundering. All masks will use two layers of fabric per the pattern and instructions,” the instructions read.  

While non-professional-grade respirators offer some benefit, health professionals advise that the best way to help prevent the spread of the virus is to continue basic practices like social distancing and washing one’s hands. 

“It’s important to emphasize that the best defenses against the spread of COVID-19 continue to be frequent handwashing and staying home,” Dr. Larry Kidd, senior vice president and chief clinical officer for Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, said in a prepared statement.

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