5 Questions about Masks
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5 Questions about Masks

Based on new recommendations made by Vermont Governor Phil Scott over the weekend, everyone should now wear a mask when out in public. Why did that change, and how does this new advice affect the other things we are supposed to do? Here are some commonly asked questions about how this new direction affects our lives.

Why did the governor switch from a no-mask to now a masked policy? Governmental leaders and health professionals are encouraged by the impact social distancing has made on slowing the spread of COVID-19. But new, credible information suggests that the disease may be spread by people who appear healthy. Healthy seeming people infected with the virus are likely to spread much less of the pathogen when masked.

Yay! If I have a mask on, I can finally go shopping normally again, right? Sorry. Trips out should still be limited to those for essentials only. If you are doing this well, you are going out to the grocery store and/or pharmacy no more than once a week. See this handy guide for more about how to make essential trips safely.

But at least I can finally see my friends again, as long as I wear a mask, right? Sadly, no. We should still be practicing social distancing. So no visiting please, unless by phone or video chat. When you are out in public or at work, you should still be keeping at least 6 feet—the length of a large couch—apart, even with a mask on.

So what are the masks good for? Masks don't actually block their wearer from breathing in potentially harmful particles as much as they keep the wearer from projecting them when they talk. So by wearing a mask, you are actually protecting others, in case you are infected. They are also helpful for keeping us from touching our noses and mouths, which is a common way that infected people transfer the germ into the environment and way that non-infected people pick up the germ.

I am supposed to wear a mask, but where do I get one? You’re right. It is hard to find masks to purchase right now. And we should really be saving the medical-grade masks, which are in short supply, for our healthcare workers. So we need to improvise. While the options below certainly don’t work as well as the real thing, they are better than nothing:

  • If you're handy with a needle and thread, you could sew one. If you happened to have sewn many, distribute them to family and friends or donate them to a local group, like Green Mountain Mask Makers. Individuals can also connect with sewing groups to get masks, either for free or for a donation.
  • You can also use a handkerchief tied around your neck and pulled up like a bank robber from an old western movie.
  • Chief Medical Officer Trey Dobson, MD, recommends repurposing your cold-weather gear and using a neck warmer or ski mask.
  • There are also some pretty great McGyver-like online tutorials that show you how to make a mask out of a t-shirt and a few rubber bands.

If you have questions about masking up, feel free to call SVHC’s COVID-19 Informational Hotline at 802-440-8844. And thank you for efforts to contain COVID-19.


Donna Barron, RN, is the infection preventionist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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