Brent Stainer, director of Everett Emergency Management, hands out masks at a free face-mask drive-thru recently in the WSU Everett parking lot. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Brent Stainer, director of Everett Emergency Management, hands out masks at a free face-mask drive-thru recently in the WSU Everett parking lot. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Facing up to masked living: What to make or what to buy

Face coverings don’t need to be complicated or pricey, says a medical device expert.

EVERETT — When Everett resident Sue Misao needed a face mask, she raided her closet.

Cotton shirts, shorts and pillow cases destined for the donation bin found new life as face coverings.

Armed with scissors, a hot iron and a presser foot, Misao downloaded a pattern she found online and set to sewing.

“I probably made a couple dozen — for me, my kids, two co-workers and my daughter’s boss,” said Misao, a news producer at The Daily Herald.

Andrea Brown, a reporter at The Daily Herald and a beneficiary, took home four of the colorful, two-ply face coverings, including matching hot pink versions for her and her granddaughter.

“Sue’s masks are the best,” said Brown, adding, “And it’s not just because they were free.”

But are they any good?

If they’re made from two or more layers of fabric, cover the chin and fit snugly, chances are they’re effective, said Kim Trautman, executive vice president of medical device international services at NSF International.

The independent organization tests food, medical devices and consumer products for retailers and distributors to ensure they meet industry and health safety standards. Locally, NSF operates an office at the Port of Everett that offers seafood certification.

Face coverings, except for medical-grade masks, aren’t intended to prevent wearers from contracting the coronavirus, but they help prevent its spread if you’ve contracted it or aren’t yet showing symptoms, said Trautman, a biomedical engineer who worked at the Food and Drug Administration for 24 years before joining NSF.

A person drives up to inquire about free face masks in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A person drives up to inquire about free face masks in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Snohomish County has entered Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to reopen the state amid the coronavirus pandemic, and face coverings are recommended.

With medical-grade masks being funneled to health care workers and first responders, what do the rest of us buy or make?

That’s a question Trautman hears a lot these days.

Do-it-yourself masks can be remarkably effective, Trautman said.

While not a substitute for an N95 respirator or proper personal protective equipment, they’re usually fine for general use, Trautman said.

Face coverings don’t need to be complicated or expensive, according to the Washington State Department of Health, which recommends their use where it’s difficult to maintain a six-foot distance from others.

Some tests indicate that cotton and wool — natural fibers — do a better job of blocking contaminants than some synthetic fibers. It seems that the irregular wisps and split-ends that characterize natural fibers are better at trapping particles than synthetic fibers, which are more uniform, Trautman said.

Whether you’re cutting up sheets or shirts, pay attention to the thread count, Trautman said.

The higher the number, the tighter the weave — and that makes for better filtration, she said. That said, you need to strike a balance between filtration and breathability, Trautman said.

If a general-use face covering is too heavy or cumbersome, it runs the risk of being left at home. “If people aren’t comfortable wearing masks for an extended period of time they will not wear them consistently and properly,” she said.

Martha Mee sorts through masks that are organized by age and size in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Martha Mee sorts through masks that are organized by age and size in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Denim, 100% cotton T-shirts and tightly woven cotton fabrics are recommended. For better filtration, add a pocket inside the face covering and insert a disposable, single-use filter such as a coffee filter or paper towel.

With patterns and purchases, be wary of one-size-fits-all, said Trautman. Small, medium and large sizes make for a better fit. Check that the mask covers your chin.

Ear loops or ties? Trautman favors tie-behind-the-head styles. Instead of taking the mask off during a break and laying it down on a surface, where it might become contaminated, it can hang from your neck like a pair of sunglasses. Ties can be as simple as a pair of shoelaces.

Wear glasses? Choose the more form-fitting designs, Trautman advised. Pleated, rectangular masks tend to allow air to escape and fog up glasses, she said. If you’re making a mask at home and want to create a fitting nose bridge, pipe-cleaners work. Don’t sew or have a sewing machine? Fabric glue is an alternative.

Everett Emergency Management is giving away free face coverings from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday in the parking lot at 915 North Broadway in Everett.

To view an NSF webinar on face coverings, go to bit.ly/2XP0qP7. For face mask patterns from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, go to bit.ly/37i1z4z.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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