YORKTOWN, N.Y. - Reversing course on its initial guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to soon recommend that all Americans wear masks if they go out in public, according to published reports.

Because supplies of medical-grade masks are still running critically low, the new guidance is expected to concern cloth and non-medical face coverings only.

Little is still known about the highly contagious coronavirus, but some medical experts suspect it can be aerosolized, meaning it can be transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. One cough expels about 3,000 droplets (the equivalent of a 5-minute conversation) and one sneeze expels about 40,000 droplets, according to U.S. Air Force Capt. Samuel Philbrick, a flight surgeon with the 525th Fighter Squadron in Anchorage, Alaska.

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“These are microscopic droplets that remain suspended in the air for a while after somebody talks, breathes, or coughs,” Philbrick said in a video. “Transmission seems to occur most readily within a range of 6 feet. This is probably because the droplets can remain suspended in the air for long enough that folks who are inside of that metaphorical danger zone can inspire some of the droplets and acquire the infection.”

Even if that proves to be untrue, wearing masks can help people develop good habits, such as not touching their nose or mouth with their hands, said Dr. David Price, a pulmonary critical care specialist at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City who treats Covid-19 patients.

“You have to start psychologically working on the connection between your hands and your face,” Price said in a video. “I’m terrible at this. I touch my face all the time. You don’t even realize it.”

If only for that reason, Price recommends wearing a mask out in public.

“You don’t need a medical mask,” Price said. “Front-line health care workers need these masks right now… The general community has zero need for an N95 mask.”

Because of high demand, masks might be difficult to purchase. But residents in a pinch can make their own masks at home using fabric (preferably cotton) and coffee filters, said Ina Bearak Helfand, a Yorktown resident with 60 years of sewing experience. String, ribbon or elastic bands are also needed to go around the ears.

“You just cut a 10-by-5-inch [fabric] rectangle,” Bearak Helfand said. “You cut two of those and you take your coffee filter and you put it in between the two fabrics.”

Bearak Helfand, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, said little sewing experience is needed to make the masks. She recommends using a sewing machine but people without them can get creative (think: glue or staples). A video explaining the sewing process is linked above. 

“A coffee filter is big. It fits at least over the major part of your nose and mouth,” she said. “If you’re standing 6 feet away from somebody, it’s as good as you can get.”

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