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Everything You Need To Know About The New Face Mask Guidelines

Including how to make them, where to (affordably!) get them, and why the CDC is changing its recommendations.

As we learn more about the novel coronavirus and how it spreads, researchers' findings are leading the CDC to change its recommendations about face masks to prioritize public safety.

Emma Lord / BuzzFeed

In February, the CDC recommended that aside from health care workers, *only* people who were sick or taking care of those who were sick should wear masks. Now the CDC is recommending that members of the general public wear face masks or other face coverings when leaving their homes.

First, a bit about why the CDC pivoted. More insight into the coronavirus revealed two key factors about the spread: One is that research has indicated that people can transmit the virus asymptomatically, meaning people exhibiting no symptoms can, in fact, spread it.

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Although Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted in a press conference in January that when it comes to respiratory-borne viruses like the coronavirus, asymptomatic spread has never been the "driver" of outbreaks, recent insights from emerging data led Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, to tell NPR that the number of asymptomatic people who may be inadvertently spreading the virus “may be as many as 25%.”

So essentially, the CDC doesn't want you to wear a face covering just to protect yourself; it also wants you to do it to protect the people around you, on the chance that you are an asymptomatic carrier. You can check out BuzzFeed News' reporting on potential asymptomatic spread for more deets.

The other factor is that the coronavirus can be spread by people who are in close proximity, such as just speaking to each other.

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Initially, the CDC advised that the virus was spread by droplets released when a person was coughing or sneezing, but emerging evidence led the federal agency to warn that simple "close proximity" with people who may be asymptomatic could be enough for transmission.

Essentially, the recommendations we're getting from the CDC are fluid: The agency is changing them as it better understands how the virus behaves and spreads between humans.

While there is still very little research on how much protection cloth face masks give to people wearing them, many health experts now agree they are better than nothing — especially since they may stop people from spreading the virus if they don't know they have it.

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So here's what else you might be wondering about how to buy, make, and use face masks:

1. This is all well and good, but I keep hearing masks are in super-short supply. Where do I fit into this?

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OMG, I'm so glad you asked, because this gives me an opportunity to iterate something very important: The CDC is not recommending you wear the same masks that health care workers are using, like surgical masks or N95 respirators. Those masks are vital for protecting health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus battle right now, and any available resources should go straight to them.

In fact, the CDC isn't even recommending you specifically wear a mask — any kind of secure cloth face covering will do. Which leads us to our next frequently *masked* question ...

2. I don't have a mask right now. What can I use?

Emma Lord/BuzzFeed

Truly, any kind of cloth covering will do. You can tie a bandana around your face or use a piece of cloth from an old shirt or any cloth you have lying around. As long as the fabric is breathable and covers your mouth and nose, has multiple layers (meaning you fold the fabric), and can be reliably secured to your face, you're ready to go.

An important note from the CDC: "Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance."

3. Where *can* I buy a mask, though?

Custom Ink

Right now, non-medical-grade masks are in high demand, but there are a few places you can purchase them online if you'd rather not fashion one yourself.

✨ Custom Ink is selling masks at $30 for a family pack of 12 and $240 for a pack of 120.

✨ Many Etsy sellers have added mask options, like Corsettery, which is offering six custom masks for $52.90; Jonika's Design, which is is selling them for $15.35 each; and Greens Nola, which is selling them for $19.99. (Please note shipping timelines, which may be subject to change.)

✨Swim Spot is selling a 10-pack of masks for $11.

Other retailers are offering masks as well, but many are out of stock at the moment, with more supplies expected to come in soon. In the meantime, though, it's super simple to make your own.

4. How can I make my own mask?

An extremely fun fact is that you don't need a sewing machine or, truly, any crafting skills to make your own mask at home! Here are a few tutorials to get you started.

Colin Hanks, the internet's new favorite DIY mask influencer, showed people how to make masks with a simple cloth bandana (or any square piece of fabric) and two hair ties.

The CDC also uploaded a video showing people how to make masks, where US Surgeon General Jerome Adams showed how to make them using cloth from a T-shirt, scarf, or hand towel with two rubber bands.

View this video on YouTube


It's time for all those old high school marching band T-shirts to finally do a public service.

BuzzFeed also has a Nifty video for DIY face masks that breaks down the sewing process step-by-step to ease you through it.

View this video on YouTube


BRB — turning my Harry Potter pillowcase into one.

Even TikTokers are sharing DIY videos: After dropping a popular TikTok about the scarcity of resources for health care professionals, model Marc Sebastian dropped *another* TikTok with a very quick tutorial involving a sewing machine (you will def have to hit pause).

Marc Sebastian / TikTok

That home ec course in middle school is finally coming in handy, y'all.

In addition, the CDC has uploaded written instructions with images for both no-sew and sewn face masks here.


You'll find a step-by-step guide to using fabric, a T-shirt, or a bandana. If you can dream it, you can mask it.

5. Do I need to wear a mask whenever I leave the house?

Emma Lord / BuzzFeed

It can only help to wear one when you're in public, even if you're just going on a walk, but the CDC is specifically aiming this guideline at people who either know they're going to be in an "essential" place where maintaining social distance may be difficult, like the grocery store or the pharmacy, or are living in an area with significant known community spread.

6. If I'm wearing a mask, do I have to be as strict about social distancing?

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Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes (yes). The CDC stresses that "maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus" and emphasizes that face coverings are recommended "to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others."

7. Will I get in trouble if I'm in public and I'm not wearing a mask?

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Nope! As of right now, the CDC's recommendation is a "voluntary" measure, so you're not required to wear one (although your state or local government may require them at an essential business). But for the sake of yourself and everyone around you, you should always interact in the world as if you were a carrier of the coronavirus, and keep your distance from others in whatever way you reasonably can. It doesn't matter if you are in an area with high community spread or not. We are now seeing coronavirus cases in all 50 states, and often the "hot spots" for it aren't identified until as many as two weeks after the initial spread, because of the 2- to 14-day period it can take for symptoms to develop. Because of this, it's important that every single person live their day-to-day life as if their area were a potential hot spot — it's our best defense against the virus, and the most effective way to flatten the curve of new cases.

8. How do I disinfect my mask, and how often should I do it?

Emma Lord/BuzzFeed

According to the CDC, "A washing machine should suffice in properly washing a face covering." Ideally, you would wash it each time you leave the house wearing it, which is why, if you have the materials to make masks easily, you might want to make multiple versions.

9. Are there any other ways I can help?

Emma Lord / BuzzFeed

If you’re feeling particularly crafty and you have the resources, you can volunteer to make masks for neighbors or other people in your community, and drop them off in ziplock bags to maintain social distancing guidelines. (In these instances, tell your friends and neighbors to wash the masks before use, just to be safe.) Read the CDC’s full guidelines for making adequate masks to make sure they’ll be best designed for frequent use. Check online to see if there are places in your local community that are actively looking for non-medical-grade masks, particularly essential businesses that are still open during the outbreak.

The other ways to help are super easy: Stay home. Wash your hands. Try not to touch your face. Maintain social distancing guidelines by staying at least 6 feet away from other people when you’re out on essential trips or exercising outdoors. And remember that wearing masks is *not* a substitute for maintaining distance, both for your own sake and for the sake of others.

Stay safe and stay well, everyone! And read the CDC's full recommendations and protocols for face coverings here.