Press release on use of cloth face masks

April 3, 7 p.m. press release


Earlier today, the Centers for Disease Control issued recommendations for wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies). This is due to increasing evidence that people can start spreading the virus even when they don’t feel sick (asymptomatic transmission).

Princeton, NJ Mayor Liz Lempert and Princeton Board of Health Chair Dr. George DiFerdinando are joining the growing list of Mayors and other health and government officials who are advocating the use of masks among the general public when out on essential trips. Masks should be worn whenever you are out of the home in public spaces.

Mayor Lempert emphasized that such masks or coverings must be sharply distinguished from both surgical masks and N-95 masks. Professionally made masks and N95s must be saved for hospital workers who are putting their lives on the line in this battle.  But homemade cloth masks, or even a bandana or scarf may give the average person a little extra protection against catching (or spreading) the virus.

“We need to be doing everything we can to slow the spread of this disease in order to give our medical system time to adequately prepare for a surge in patients and scientists time to develop and test potential treatments,” Lempert said. “Staying at home is the most important thing we can all be doing. But when we need to leave the house, using a face covering can help slow transmission.”

The purpose of using community masks as face coverings is to further control community spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.  Although such facial coverings do not offer proven protection to the wearer, there is consensus that they can reduce the risk of the wearer transmitting the virus to others—a critical step in “flattening the curve” Mayor Lempert urged this further step as there is mounting evidence of asymptomatic people are a primary source of spreading COVID-19. Dr. Deborah Birx, coronavirus task force response coordinator, stressed that the updated guidance was an “additive” protective measure and not meant as a substitute.

The community masks are not meant to replace the need for social distancing, diligent handwashing, and keeping hands away from the face.  The role of a community mask is that of a value-added accessory that increases the effectiveness of the measures currently in place to slow the spread of COVID -19.  The goal here is to simply limit the spread of COVID-19 by removing contaminated droplets from the air released by asymptomatic people when breathing, talking, coughing or sneezing. Research, published by Cambridge University Press, found that both homemade cloth masks and traditional surgical masks “significantly” reduced the amount of potentially infectious droplets expelled by the wearer, though surgical masks were three times better for preventing transmission. Because homemade masks are less disposable than medical masks, they should be washed after use to get rid of infectious droplets.

“We must do all we can to enhance NJ Governor Phil Murphy’s Stay at Home order, and community masking adds to our efforts,” said Dr. George DiFerdinando, Chair of Princeton’s Board of Health. “Community masks do not replace social distancing, handwashing, coughing and sneezing into a tissue or elbow and sanitizing surfaces regularly, and they certainly don’t mean that it’s okay to venture out for any reason not consistent with the Stay at Home order.  They are an important tool, however, in reducing transmission to others when leaving the home is unavoidable.”

Here are some general guidelines for using a homemade mask:

  • The mask should be washed in hot soapy water (or machine washed) before first use, and after every trip in  public (e.g. grocery store)
  • Wash your hands before touching the clean mask.
  • Mask must be placed over both your nose and your mouth to be effective.
  • While in use, you can’t drink, eat, or smoke or this will not provide protection.
  • Don’t fiddle with or fidget with the mask.  Don’t touch your face.
  • If the mask becomes wet or contaminated, it’s time to change it out and launder.
  • This is not a magic bullet.  This is not an N95, nor even a surgical mask.  A scarf or homemade mask won’t stop aerosols (ultra-fine mists from singing or speaking), but can add some protection to those around you by reducing droplet spread.
  • This does NOT reduce the need to stay at home for all but the most essential trips. 

Stay home. Save Lives. Stop the spread.

 Here are some helpful links to get started: