I think it’s safe to say that the past couple weeks have been a pretty wild ride for most of us! I hope everyone reading this is managing to stay safe and well during these challenging times.

By now, you have probably heard all the warnings from health and government officials:

  • Keeping a physical distance of at least 2 metres (6 feet) from the next person;
  • Washing your hands often with soap and running water, and using hand sanitizer when you are out running errands and soap and water are not available;
  • Don’t touch your face!!!!

What people have not been hearing about is wearing masks. Unfortunately, the messages to the public re: wearing masks have been unclear. In Western nations, people have been told not to wear masks because they are ineffective for preventing infection. As it turns out, this was mainly to deter people from buying up available stocks of medical masks (surgical masks, N95 respirators), essential equipment for health workers. Despite that, there have been chronic shortages of medical-grade masks in Western countries. Because of the messaging, now, if you try venturing out of doors with a mask on, one is often met with suspicious and angry stares, as if to say, “You are a selfish jerk for hoarding essential medical equipment that should go to hospital workers!”. Recently, however, the Michael Garron Hospital Foundation began a media campaign, asking the community to sew fabric masks. In their words: “We want to see all east enders wearing a fabric mask when they need to be within six feet of other people, especially vulnerable populations and the elderly.”

In the FAQ section, the Foundation states that the masks will be given out to the following (following has been copied directly):

  • Hospital healthcare providers will not use these masks. They have certified masks that they are required to wear. 
  • All approved visitors who enter Michael Garron Hospital 
  • All of our discharged patients as they reintegrate into the community
  • We also plan to distribute to our broader community to help prevent disease transmission.

Unfortunately, and perhaps on purpose, the message of having the broader community wear the mask has not been heavily emphasized, probably because they know, as do I, that it would mean a 180-degree turnaround from previous messaging. The main purpose of wearing a mask is to prevent droplets from spraying out whenever someone talks, coughs or sneezes – the idea is to cut down on the risk of transmission from asymptomatic carriers, people who are showing little/no symptoms, and those who are in the incubation stage. The danger is that there are lots of people walking around who are infected, have no idea, and still going outside, going to stores/banks/whatever, and shedding viruses. Wearing a mask helps to limit droplets from escaping. For the wearer, the mask provides a small amount of protection which is better than zero protection (see this review article, and this commentary published in Lancet). There is very little downside that I can see.

One of the top scientific journals in the world, Science, recently published a Q & A with Dr. George Gao, director-general of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control, in which he says this:

Q: What mistakes are other countries making? 
A: The big mistake in the U.S. and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren’t wearing masks. This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role—you’ve got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth. Many people have asymptomatic or presymptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.

(Read full article HERE)

In a number of Asian countries, wearing a mask is either expected (due to cultural norms) or it has been mandated by the government. The Czech Republic also made it mandatory to wear a mask in public, which has resulted in a social media campaign called “Masks4All” (check out the Czech PSA video on Youtube HERE). The campaign has gotten the attention of the German Medical Association, which has begun encouraging German citizens to wear a mask. So, hopefully, public opinion on masks in other Western countries will soon turn, and help to reduce the rates of infection.

Making a fabric mask is easy! Yes, you will need a sewing machine but otherwise, it’s straightforward. I have provided links to two basic patterns below.

  1. Pleated mask (click on downloadable PDF link): all purpose fit but can be bulky and heavy due to the pleats.
  2. Fitted mask: less fabric around the face means it will be less hot and stuff to wear than the pleated mask.

Now is the time to use up that fabric stash that’s been gathering dust! If you have old pillowcases, bedsheets you wanted to get rid of, those can be cut up and repurposed. Lots of other things can be reused for the head straps: shoelaces, ribbons, straps from old bras, and old t-shirts cut into narrow strips.


In related news: the Toronto Public Library has cancelled all their public programs to the end of JUNE 2020. So, that means my talks scheduled for April 6, 14 and 16, and June 12 and 26 have been cancelled. I am pretty disappointed about it, because April is Earth Month and I was going to talking about the science of cosmetic ingredients that have been labelled as “dirty” and “toxic”. I am debating whether or not to do a webinar or some kind of online thing. If you are interested in participating in a webinar, please send me a message! Take care, everyone!