On April 3, 2020, the CDC released a statement that recommended “…wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
Like many other fishermen, I immediately thought of the handful of neck gaiters/face masks (what most fishermen call “buffs,” a term that comes from the BUFF® Headwear company that popularized them) that I wear for sun protection while fishing.
Could I wear a neck gaiter as a face mask to protect myself and others from the coronavirus?
I checked the BUFF® Headwear website and found their statement on COVID-19 posted prominently:
“BUFF® head and neckwear protects against many of nature’s elements. However, while our multifunctional headwear products cover the entire front of the face (nose, mouth, chin, and neck), they are not scientifically proven by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent you from: (1) contracting a virus/disease/illness or (2) passing a virus/disease/illness to someone else. If / When BUFF® products are worn, in response to the April 3, 2020 Center for Disease Control (CDC) statement…we encourage users not to circumvent the proper safety protocols of social distancing, quarantining, etc. suggested by the CDC.”
Obviously, BUFF® Headwear is being very careful not to suggest that their product can prevent disease, illness, or the spread of viruses. They are also recommending that whatever you use to cover your face, you should still practice social distancing. I’ll echo that recommendation. According to the CDC, there is nothing more effective at stopping transmission of the coronavirus than simply avoiding contact with other people.
However, if you must be in a situation where there is the potential that you will be unable to maintain social distance, wearing a cloth face covering is the responsible thing to do. According to the CDC, the use of simple cloth face coverings can slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.
The CDC recommends that cloth face masks “fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face, include multiple layers of fabric, allow for breathing without restriction, be able to be laundered and machine dried.” They provide instructions to make both sewn and no-sew DIY face masks from “tightly woven cotton, such as quilting fabric or cotton sheets.” They also have instructions for layering a coffee filter inside a cotton bandana.
According to an article in the New York Times on the best material for a homemade mask, a simple face covering can reduce the spread of coronavirus by blocking outgoing germs from an infected person, but there is more variation in how much homemade masks might protect the wearer from incoming germs, depending on the fit and material. The balance is in choosing a fabric that is dense enough to capture viral particles, but breathable enough that it can actually be worn. The article quotes Dr. Scott Segal, chairman of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health, who recently studied homemade masks and says a good test of a material is to hold it up to a bright light. “If light passes really easily through the fibers and you can almost see the fibers, it’s not a good fabric. If it’s a denser weave of thicker material and light doesn’t pass through it as much, that’s the material you want to use.”
That brings us back to fishing face masks and neck gaiters designed for sun protection. Most are made from a single layer of lightweight, stretchy polyester and designed for comfort and breathability. Some have small holes or slits around the nose and mouth for better ventilation. I tested several different neck gaiters and face masks from several different manufacturers by holding them up to bright light, and all of them allowed significant light to pass through.
That said, and with the caveat that I have not performed any scientific tests on face masks and am only working with knowledge I’ve found on the internet, any cloth face covering is better than nothing. And the benefits of a neck gaiter or fishing face mask are that it fits snugly, covers the mouth and nose securely, can be washed in a washing machine, and does not require any sewing to construct. To potentially improve its effectiveness, follow the CDC recommendation of adding layers. You could double it over, and/or use it to hold an additional layer or two of tightly-woven cotton over your mouth and nose. I added a layer of tightly-woven cotton cut from a pillowcase inside one of mine, doubling it over to hold the cotton layer in place. It fits snug and feels like it should provide some protection for myself and others.
Again, according to the CDC, wearing any cloth face covering may help to slow the spread of the virus. If you wear a “buff” as a face mask, take care when removing it by putting your (clean) fingers under the neckline and lifting up from the bottom to top over your head. And do not let a cloth mask give you a false sense of protection. Continue to follow the guidelines on social distancing previously set forth by the CDC.
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