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Cloth masks: Who should use them, where to donate

Face masks and other medical supplies are in short supply right now. You may have heard about people and organizations making and donating homemade cloth masks to healthcare organizations. We need to preserve the limited supply of N95 and other medical grade masks for healthcare workers and those at high risk of exposure, like first responders.  

The CDC now recommends—but does not require—wearing homemade masks in public. Medical-grade masks should be left for healthcare workers on the front lines. 

According to guidance from CDC and Washington State Department of Health, using a face covering of any kind is another tool in the toolbox for the fight against COVID-19.

  • It’s still critical to wash hands, cover coughs and follow social distancing measures.

  • It’s your choice to wear a homemade mask. Consider this step when you can’t safely social distance, or are in public settings like the grocery store.

  • We are not recommending medical-grade masks for the public. We desperately need to conserve these supplies for our healthcare workers and others on the front lines, like first responders.

  • Do not put masks on children under 2.

  • Do not use HEPA filter material to make masks. It may be toxic.

With changing recommendations on who can benefit from wearing masks, we want to clarify the difference between homemade and medical-grade masks.

COVID19_Face Mask_Infographic-01

Do cloth masks protect against COVID-19? Who should use them?

Cloth or other homemade masks are not tested and certified as personal protective equipment (PPE). Those providing care in healthcare settings and first responders such as firefighters, EMTs and law enforcement officers should only use cloth masks as a last resort.

But for others, cloth masks may provide limited protection when doing essential tasks like buying groceries and picking up prescriptions. This preserves medical-grade supplies for healthcare workers and first responders. Homemade masks can help decrease some of the droplets produced when talking, coughing or laughing. They may provide some protection in addition to regular hand hygiene and staying 6 feet apart from people outside your household.

Masks may provide protection for others around you, too. Many people may become infected with the virus without showing symptoms. Wearing a mask could protect those around you if you have the virus and don’t know it.

N95 masks are the standard for healthcare workers and first responders.

Healthcare workers and first responders are on the front lines of our community’s fight against COVID-19. They are at higher risk of exposure to the disease than many other groups. We need to preserve our supplies of tested and certified masks and PPE for these groups who need them most.

Healthcare workers and first responders should use tested and certified PPE like N95 respirator masks to protect against exposure to COVID-19.

Please save medical-grade N95 respirators and face masks for healthcare workers and first responders. But N95s are in such short supply that some healthcare facilities and law enforcement agencies are accepting donations of homemade cloth masks. CHI Franciscan is accepting donations of homemade standard medical masks that meet clinically designated criteria. Learn more about the specific guidelines on their website.

You can also donate homemade cloth masks to local law enforcement agencies, which may not have adequate supplies of medical grade masks right now. And because CDC has provided guidance that the general public should wear cloth masks, other non-medical facilities may want donations. Be sure to call ahead to ask if the organization is accepting cloth mask donations.

So far, we’ve learned that Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, Tacoma Police Department, and Puyallup Police Department will accept donations of homemade masks. Most will accept these in their main lobby during regular business hours, if their buildings are currently open. Call ahead.