SINCE the wearing of masks in public spaces became mandatory, we've seen just how creative and resourceful Jamaicans really are. Handkerchiefs, hair ties, T-shirts, socks, and even plastic bottles have been upcycled into face masks — if not to prevent contracting the virus, then at least to make a statement.
But while we're busy making sure our masks coordinate with our outfits, we also need to ensure they are not doing us more harm than good in the fight against COVID-19. Medical experts prescribe basic requirements for the design, use and care of even makeshift home-made cloth masks to reduce your risk of infection.
Lasine Matthews, owner of Things You Key'p, is one of the many local women who, with the help of their sewing machines, grabbed the opportunity to 'tun han' make fashion' while simultaneously making a few extra dollars by selling cloth masks. She gives us five F's to bear in mind to ensure that your home-made or purchased cloth mask make the cut, so that you can stay trendy and safe at the same time.
“One of the main functions of your cloth mask is to limit the amount of particles that come in contact with your face, that could eventually get into your nose or mouth and infect you,” she says. “So you want to ensure that the mask, whether you are buying it or making it on your own, fits you snugly — not too big for air to travel around it, and not too small to squeeze you and cause you to have to touch it often.”
“You don't want it so thin that most particles are still passing through it, but you don't want it so thick that you can't breathe,” she says. “Respiratory experts recommend multiple layers of breathable fabric, so cotton is the best fabric to use because it is breathable, and it has fine 'hairs' that can trap more particles than many other fabrics.”
Matthews notes that an effective mask is one that allows you to put it on and take it off without having to touch either the exposed surface or the inside of it. “I find that masks with an elastic loop over the ears tend to require less adjusting than those that you tie at the back of the head,” she says. “Also, it's good to ensure that you can tell the inside of your mask from the outside, either by the shape or colour. This way, if you remove it to eat, for example, you don't put it on the other way by mistake.”
“One of the advantages of cloth masks is that although they offer less protection than medical-grade ones, they are reusable,” she points out. “But you must ensure that your mask is still safe the next time you wear it.”
She recommends that after removing your cloth mask each time you return home, you do not wear it again unless you wash it with warm, soapy water. “You do not need to use bleach—detergent is enough to kill the virus, and too much chlorine may damage the fabric. But if you must use bleach, add it to the water. Ensure that your mask dries properly and if you so desire, you may also iron it.”
The Few Exceptions
“Not everyone should wear a mask,” she cautions. “Babies and children under two should never wear even cloth masks because of the suffocation hazard. Other people who have respiratory illnesses or may not be able to remove it by themselves in case of an emergency should not wear them either. If you are healthy but you still feel out of breath after wearing your mask after a few minutes, then it either has too many layers or the fabric is woven too tight.”