Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s warning last week that as many as 25 percent of people infected with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) may be asymptomatic, meaning they never show symptoms, the federal health agency is now advising that all Americans wear cloth face coverings when out to help slow the spread of the virus.
The suggestion comes after weeks of officials instructing the general public to only wear masks if they are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to the virus. Considering the new data about asymptomatic transmission — which the White House coronavirus task force’s Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Sunday is estimated to now be “between 25 and 50 percent” — the CDC now recommends the use of homemade cloth face coverings in public settings, particularly those in which it’s difficult to maintain social distancing, such as grocery stores and pharmacies.
Making your own mask at home is an easy and low-cost way to help slow the spread of COVID-19, in addition to continuing social distancing measures and staying home. The CDC stressed in its announcement that it is not encouraging the public to use surgical masks or N-95 respirators, which are in short supply in hospitals across the country and should be reserved for medical professionals.
The agency also noted that face coverings should not be used on children under the age of 2, or “anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance,” according to the website.
Below are the CDC’s guidelines for making an at-home face covering three ways.
Sewn Face Covering Instructions
- Two 10-in. x 6-in. rectangles of cotton fabric
- Two 6-in. pieces of elastic (or rubber bands, string, cloth strips or hair ties)
- Needle and thread (or bobby pin)
- Sewing machine
No-Sew Face Covering Instructions (T-shirt)
No-Sew Face Covering Instructions (Bandana)
- Bandana (or 20-in. x20-in. square cotton cloth)
- Coffee filter
- Rubber bands or hair ties
- Scissors (if you are cutting your own cloth)
In addition to the new recommendation, CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield reminds Americans that their most “powerful weapon” against contracting the virus and spreading it is to continue social distancing.
“This virus cannot go from person to person that easily. It needs us to be close. It needs us to be within 6 feet. If we just distance ourselves, this virus can’t sustain itself and it will go out,” he told NPR on March 31. “So this social distancing that we’re pushing, is a powerful weapon, and that will shut this outbreak down sooner than it otherwise would have been shut down.”
“I’d like to thank all the Americans and all the people in our nation that have taken this to heart and really practice aggressive social distancing,” he added.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.