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My mask protects you and your mask protects me

Asian nations have been able to slow the spread of COVID-19 much better than the United States or Europe. They are doing one thing very differently than most Western nations.

They are wearing masks in public. In the West there is a growing belief that we may have looked at this backwards. (Washington Post, DIY Masks, 3/28/20) The CDC said that masks don’t work well to protect the person that wears them, and we need all the masks we have for healthcare workers. They were right, we do need hospital grade masks for our healthcare workers but what we have failed to grasp in the West is that masks do protect each of us to some degree and perhaps even more importantly, masks protect the people around us. The evidence is solid that homemade cloth and even proper paper masks may work to keep our droplets from going to others. These homemade masks or even bandanas also serve another very important role. The main spread between people is from droplets from a person with the virus to our hands or to things we touch and then we bring our hands to our mouth, nose, or eyes without thinking.

Homemade masks and even bandanas can play an important role in keeping our hands away from our face and reminding us to wash our hands frequently so we can touch our faces.

COVID-19 starts with no symptoms. As it spreads, it spreads faster and faster because the walking well are spreading it. Masks, even homemade masks, can protect us from each other. If I am wearing a mask, my droplets will spread less. The Czech republic, one of the first Western nations to start wearing homemade masks, produced a slogan “My mask protects you, your mask protects me”. They started to make cloth masks in bars and homes and literally covered the nation with masks in three days. Austria announced on Monday, they are mandating masks for anyone who enters a grocery store.

Bottom line: Don’t try to buy hospital grade masks, our healthcare workers need them. We can make them. Make them colorful. Let’s call them Aloha Masks and let’s all wear them in public. We will be protecting each other and we will be reminded and prevented from touching our faces when we are out in public. If hospital workers or doctor’s offices want these homemade masks also, let’s give them to our healthcare providers first. They are our heroes.

There is a new Facebook group called Massive Masks for Kauai. It is open to the public and will aid in coordinating people interested in sewing masks. We can do this. Let’s get it done.

This column represents a sharing of information. No content on this column should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.


Lee A Evslin, MD is a Board Certified Pediatrician and Fellow of The American Academy of Pediatrics. He was a former healthcare administrator on Kaua‘i and periodically writes a column for the Garden Island.

  1. Carol Altman March 31, 2020 5:49 am Reply

    I am a sewer but i do not use facebook. Please do not use a bandana. There are proper guidelines for sewing masks. Please offer a phone-number or an email address for these Massive Masks people? It is very important masks are not made incorrectly. Masks need a filter, a pocket, several layers of tightly woven cloth, fabric ties that do not go around the ears and they need to be functional and properly worn you must use the right materials for filters. HEPA filters to sew N95 grade masks. Please make sure you are following the right way to make them! Mahalo

    1. Michael Mann March 31, 2020 3:11 pm Reply

      Thank you, Carol! It is really frightening when even people in the medical field are making suggestions that people basically make their own masks. Why do people think masks are made the way they are? If it were as simple as just wearing a piece of cloth over your face, why would front line medical workers be complaining about a severe shortage of masks? They could take some old clothes and create their own masks. Either this is not effective, or you have to believe medical staff have shares in mask companies (or maybe that these staff are stealing these supplies for themselves, as a “prominent American” recently insinuated).

      I guess if people want to wear their own homemade masks nobody can stop them, and perhaps that is fine if they are the only ones to be affected by their choice. But if those people get a false sense of security and start disregarding all of the other advice that the BROADER medical community offers for how to behave in these situations, then they are putting the health and safety of others at risk, and that is NOT acceptable.

      At what point, exactly, did we become a country that refuses to accept the guidance of people who are actually experts or at least knowledgeable IN THEIR FIELD? It seems there is an increasing tendency to just make it up as we go along and ignore what people who make it a point to know certain things say about those things.

  2. Paulo March 31, 2020 10:44 am Reply

    Right on Dr E!

  3. Michael Mann March 31, 2020 11:16 am Reply

    The World Health Organization actually says there is no evidence to suggest wearing masks when you aren’t sick helps, and that it might actually do just the opposite.

    But what they hey…if the “president” can make up rules, we all can.

    1. Bill Vogel June 28, 2020 10:13 am Reply

      It’s actually fauci that makes up the rules…. and changes them every few weeks

  4. ruthann jones March 31, 2020 11:49 am Reply

    thank you, Dr Evslin

  5. Mark Beeksma March 31, 2020 12:41 pm Reply

    Thank you so much, Dr. Evslin, for a great article! It is so sad that America missed its opportunity to keep it minimal like the Japanese did. However, it is still early here on Kauai, so we can all wear masks to minimize the spread. I hope the rest of the U.S. will figure this out sooner, rather than later.

  6. RG DeSoto March 31, 2020 3:05 pm Reply

    Do a little more research. Many virologist dispute the efficacy of face masks.
    Pay attention.
    RG DeSoto

    1. Jesse April 1, 2020 11:58 am Reply

      Yeah I heard they only work if your a doctor or nurse, get real man. They work and it’s way better than nothing.

      1. Michael Mann April 1, 2020 9:29 pm Reply

        Doctors and nurses know how to use them PROPERLY, and doctors and nurses don’t ignore the other important precautions to stop the spread of disease BECAUSE THEY ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION. The average Jane and Joe can almost be counted on to use masks incorrectly AND ignore other precautions. So, yeah, more than likely, they only work if you are a doctor or a nurse…i.e., YOU HAVE A CLUE.

        A mask is not going to do you or anybody else a bit of good if you aren’t washing your hands and are perpetually touching your face.

  7. Lee Evslin March 31, 2020 11:27 pm Reply

    These are great comments on this thread and represent the split in the West. The WHO and the CDC have been very much against masks in public except for people who are ill. My purpose with the article was to point out that that thinking is erroneous and that we should all be wearing masks in public and we should do it as soon as possible. After I submitted the article, the CDC announced they are considering similar advice. The reasons for the masks given in my article are also very similar to articles in the last few days in the Washington Post and the New York Times. Even the use of bandanas to help us stop touching our face has been advised by our experts. Having said all of this, the studies coming out very recently and words of wisdom by Covid-19 experts in Korea are rapidly leading me to believe that droplet and aerosolized spread directly to another’s face is more of problem than the West has been willing to believe. I think we will see a lot more about this also in the near future. Bottom line for me; I feel strongly that we should not all go out and try to buy N95 masks (healthcare worker get them first) but I agree with first comment on this thread, we should wear homemade ones that are good as we can make them and there are great plans for good masks on the internet site I mentioned above.

  8. RG DeSoto April 1, 2020 12:35 pm Reply

    I apologize. I did a little more research and found this (link below)…look at the second scatter graph where Japan is included. Then see in the text where they have the fewest restrictions in place and lowest infection rate…but where virtually everyone wears a mask in public. You are right…except for the lock-down recommendations you made.
    We may have been able to avoid the economic devastation to our people and economy in general.
    RG DeSoto

    1. Michael Mann April 1, 2020 9:32 pm Reply

      Sorry, but no. The Japanese maintain an incredibly clean society. That is not the case here. The masks THERE are just a part of the LARGER efforts they take of maintaining a clean society.

  9. Michael Mann April 1, 2020 9:53 pm Reply

    It is hilarious that anyone would try to compare the United States, or even worse, HAWAII, to Japan on such an issue. The Japanese are FASTIDIOUSLY clean. Here, if a person sees a “clean” spot in a parking lot or sidewalk, they are very likely to hork up some phlegm and spit it on the ground or out their window. Here, they cough and sneeze with the apparent intention of letting everyone know about. Here, you could probably sample 10 random people and find swine fecal matter on all of their hands and likely dirt under all of their fingernails. You don’t see that kind of stuff in Japan. So do not try to claim that just because something works in Japan, it will work here. It’s no more valid than claiming Socialism will work here because it works in Sweden.

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