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By Leah Campbell
It started with Eve donning a black mask against a backdrop of wisteria flowers, hashtagging her efforts #MaskingForAFriend. Sophia Bush, Matt McGorry, and Mayim Bialik soon followed, with others quickly joining the cause launched by the Pandemic Action Network.
How Do Masks Protect People From COVID-19?<p>There's been a lot of confusion surrounding the benefits of using masks in the battle against COVID-19, and even the U.S. government has sent <a href="https://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/editorials/2020/04/22/Mask-confusion-Health-officials-give-conflicting-messages/stories/202004170049" target="_blank">conflicting messages</a>.</p><p>But now, thanks to evolving science and a better understanding of exactly whom masks protect, most health officials seem to finally be on the same page.</p><p>"<a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> recommends that people wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth in the community setting," said <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/media/spokesperson/bell/index.html" target="_blank">Dr. Mike Bell</a>, deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. "This is to protect people around you if you are infected but do not have symptoms by blocking your respiratory droplets."</p><p>Bell has been working to provide the necessary medical perspective for the #MaskingForAFriend campaign, explaining that masking for others is what scientists and medical experts refer to as source control.</p><p>"If everyone does this, the amount of infection being spread in our communities can be greatly reduced," he said.</p>
What Else Might Masks Protect Against?<p><a href="https://providerdirectory.uabmedicine.org/provider/Kierstin+Kennedy/574872" target="_blank">Dr. Kierstin Kennedy</a>, chief of hospital medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said, "Masks can protect against any infectious illness that may be spread by droplets. For example, the flu, pertussis (whooping cough), or pneumonia."</p><p>Bell agrees, adding that wearing a cloth mask has benefits beyond slowing the spread of COVID-19, and that source control can reduce the transmission of many other easily spread respiratory infections — the kind that typically render people infectious even before they display symptoms, like influenza.</p><p>"Some international reports have noted a lower impact of flu related to the uptake of measures to prevent COVID-19," Bell said.</p><p>But that doesn't necessarily mean masks are for everyone.</p><p>"Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children younger than 2 years of age, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance," Bell explained.</p>
Could Face Masks Become an Ongoing Trend?<p>The experts we spoke with agree that until the threat of this pandemic has been neutralized, people should embrace the protection masks allow them to provide to those around them.</p><p>After all, it's not necessarily about you — it's about everyone you come in contact with.</p><p>It's not at all uncommon to be an asymptomatic carrier of the new coronavirus — which means that even if you have no symptoms at all, you could potentially transmit the virus to someone who could then become gravely ill or even die.</p><p>A mask, alongside frequent handwashing and physical distancing measures, like staying at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart, reduces that risk.</p><p>But could this be a trend that continues even after COVID-19? And perhaps the more important question: Should it?</p><p>"As we start to navigate life beyond the stay-at-home orders, we likely will need to continue to use face masks if we want to prevent continued transmission," Kennedy said.</p><p>But she's unsure of what the future may hold beyond that.</p><p>"Once the threat of COVID-19 is gone, I don't think that ongoing use of face masks in public has to continue, though it remains to be seen whether we will adopt ongoing face mask use just as we have seen in Asian countries," Kennedy said.</p>
Being Honest About the Drawbacks of Face Masks<p>While wearing a face mask in public is one more way we can help protect our friends, loved ones, and community, that doesn't mean doing so is without sacrifice.</p><p>"Face masks certainly impact the way that we interact socially," Kennedy said. "You lose the ability to connect with others in the nonverbal ways that are customary."</p><p>As an example, she says before COVID-19 you may have flashed a warm smile to someone you were rushing past in the street — a way to convey you weren't trying to be rude and to pass along a nonverbal hello.</p><p>"We will likely have to find a new normal as it relates to expected social interactions," she said.</p><p>Face masks also affect individuals with hearing disabilities, who often rely on lip reading to some extent to effectively communicate with others.</p><p>However, for those who are simply struggling with embarrassment over wearing a mask when others are not, she pointed out, "There is nothing awkward or embarrassing about protecting your health or the health of those around you. Find a mask that fits and wear it proudly."</p><p>Bell agrees. "The good thing about everyone wearing a cloth face cover when they're out in public is that it sends the message that we're all in this together, and there's no reason to be embarrassed about wearing one," she said.</p><p>In other words, the more people who take that step, the more united we will be.</p><p>But there's one more complaint about face masks that may present a bigger challenge: For some people, breathing behind the mask has proven to be difficult. And for those with anxiety or other respiratory conditions, restricted breathing can become a quality of life issue.</p><p>If you're having a hard time breathing behind your mask, Kennedy said, "The size or style of the mask may be the issue."</p><p>She encourages people to try different types of face coverings to find what works for them.</p><p>"The ideal mask is snug enough to fit close to the face (no gaps) to prevent droplets from entering or exiting around the sides, but large enough that it is not restrictive or negatively impacting your ability to breathe," Kennedy said.</p><p>As part of Ivanitskaya's work, she's actually been experimenting with different materials and varying numbers of layers required to help people be comfortable in their masks while providing the most amount or protection possible.</p><p>Her team has even produced <a href="https://cutt.ly/EN-MyMaskSavesLives" target="_blank">science-based resources</a> regarding best practices for sewing washable face masks, for those interested in achieving the balance between comfort and protection.</p><p>"It's a very real issue," Ivanitskaya said. "I'm with a group of researchers who have been developing mask construction advice, and we are suggesting materials and mask designs. One of the masks we made that seemed very reasonable, I pretested on myself, wearing the mask uphill as I rode my bike."</p><p>But the same mask Ivanitskaya was able to wear without issue turned out to be impossible for her 88-year-old neighbor to keep on.</p><p>In fact, he told her he was choking inside of it. After another older neighbor reported the same experience, Ivanitskaya turned to the research and discovered evidence of diminished lung capacity among older adults.</p><p>That was when she started experimenting with finding the sweet spot between protection and tolerability for those who may not be able to breathe as easily from behind a mask.</p><p>What she discovered is that different people have different levels of tolerability when it comes to mask wear — and factors like outside temperatures, whether the wearer also uses glasses, and even nose size can all play a role.</p><p>Finding a mask you can comfortably keep on should be the ultimate goal, even if it doesn't provide exactly the same level of protection as someone who may be able to tolerate more layers and a tighter seal.</p>
Functional — and Fashionable<p>But it's not just improving comfort that face mask designers are now focusing on. Many are also trying to create masks people actually want to wear — masks others might find as an aesthetically pleasing and fun way to accessorize.</p><p>If you think that sounds crazy, just remember: Sunglasses and hats once started out as items meant to simply protect the wearer from the sun.</p><p>They've now evolved into fashion accessories providing countless options to choose from.</p><p>"Many businesses, small and large, have taken the opportunity to make and sell cloth face covers. A wide variety of styles and designs are already available," Bell said. "We're already seeing a lot of people not only wearing cloth face coverings, but making a design or fashion statement with their choice of cover."</p><p>Whether it's the design you choose or the way you fasten your mask to your face (with a popular debate now ensuing over whether ear loops or clasps behind the head are better), you have an opportunity to make a statement with the mask you wear — and protect others in style.</p>
- Why Wear Face Masks in Public? Here's What the Research Shows ... ›
- Making Masks at Home – What You Need to Know About How to ... ›
By Samuel Cohn
Should people be forced to wear face masks in public? That's the question facing governments as more countries unwind their lockdowns. More than 30 countries have made masks compulsory in public, including Germany, Austria and Poland. This is despite the science saying masks do little to protect wearers, and only might prevent them from infecting other people.
The Great Shutdown<p><a href="https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/oso/9780198819660.001.0001/oso-9780198819660" target="_blank">In the U.S.</a>, no disease in history led to such intrusive restrictions as the great influenza. These included closures of schools, churches, soda fountains, theatres, movie houses, department stores and barber shops, and regulations on how much space should be allocated to people in indoor public places.</p><p>There were fines against coughing, sneezing, spitting, kissing and even talking outdoors — those the Boston Globe called "big talkers." Special influenza police were hired to round up children playing on street corners and occasionally even in their own backyards.</p><p>Restrictions were similarly tough in Canada, Australia and South Africa, though much less so in the UK and continental Europe. Where there were such restrictions, the public accepted it all with few objections. Unlike the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4422154/" target="_blank">long history of cholera</a>, especially in Europe, or <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/312523" target="_blank">the plague</a> in the Indian subcontinent from 1896 to around 1902, no mass violence erupted and blame was rare — even against Spaniards or minorities.</p><p>Face masks came closest to being the measure that people most objected to, even though masks were often popular at first. The Oklahoma City Times in October 1918 described an "army of young women war workers" appearing "on crowded street cars and at their desks with their faces muffled in gauze shields." From the same month, The Ogden Standard reported that "masks are the vogue," while the Washington Times told of how they were becoming "general" in Detroit.</p>
Shifting Science<p>There was scientific debate from the beginning about whether the masks were effective, but the game began to change after French bacteriologist <a href="https://www.famousscientists.org/charles-nicolle/" target="_blank">Charles Nicolle</a> discovered in October 1918 that the influenza was much smaller than any other known bacterium.</p><p>The news spread rapidly, even in small-town American newspapers. Cartoons were published that read, "like using barbed wire fences to shut out flies." Yet this was just at the point that mortality rates were ramping up in the western states of the U.S. and Canada. Despite Nicolle's discovery, various authorities began making masks compulsory. San Francisco was the first major U.S. city to do so in October 1918, continuing on and off over a three-month period.</p><p>Alberta in Canada did likewise, and New South Wales, Australia, followed suit when the disease arrived in January 1919 (the state basing its decision on scientific evidence older than Charles Nicolle's findings). The only American state to make masks mandatory was (briefly) California, while on the east coast and in other countries including the UK they were merely recommended for most people.</p>
San Francisco gathering, 1918. Wikimedia<p>Numerous photographs, like the one above, survive of large crowds wearing masks in the months after Nicolle's discovery. But many had begun to distrust masks, and saw them as a violation of civil liberties. According to a November 1918 front page report from Utah's Garland City Globe:</p><blockquote>The average man wore the mask slung to the back of his neck until he came in sight of a policeman, and most people had holes cut into them to stick their cigars and cigarettes through.<br></blockquote>
Disobedience Aplenty<p>San Francisco saw the creation of the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/29/coronavirus-pandemic-1918-protests-california" target="_blank">anti-mask league</a>, as well as protests and civil disobedience. People refused to wear masks in public or flaunted wearing them improperly. Some went to prison for not wearing them or refusing to pay fines.</p><p>In Tucson, Arizona, a banker insisted on going to jail instead of paying his fine for not masking up. In other western states, judges regularly refused to wear them in courtrooms. In Alberta, "scores" were fined in police courts for not wearing masks. In New South Wales, reports of violations flooded newspapers immediately after masks were made compulsory. Not even stretcher bearers carrying influenza victims followed the rules.</p><p>England was different. Masks were only advised as a precautionary measure in large cities, and then only for certain groups, such as influenza nurses in Manchester and Liverpool. Serious questions about efficacy only arose in March 1919, and only within the scientific community. Most British scientists now united against them, with the Lancet calling masks a "dubious remedy."</p><p>These arguments were steadily being bolstered by statistics from the US. The head of California's state board of health had presented late 1918 findings from San Francisco's best run hospital showing that 78 percent of nurses became infected despite their careful wearing of masks.</p><p>Physicians and health authorities also presented statistics comparing San Francisco's mortality rates with nearby San Mateo, Los Angeles and Chicago, none of which had made masks compulsory. Their mortality rates were either "no worse" or less. By the end of the pandemic in 1919, most scientists and health commissions had come to a consensus <a href="https://theconversation.com/should-everyone-be-wearing-face-masks-its-complicated-135548" target="_blank">not unlike ours</a> about the benefits of wearing masks.</p><p>Clearly, many of these details are relevant today. It's telling that a frivolous requirement became such an issue while more severe rules banned things like talking on street corners, kissing your fiancé or attending religious services — even in the heart of America's Bible belt.</p><p>Perhaps there's something about masks and human impulses that has yet to be studied properly. If mass resistance to the mask should arise in the months to come, it will be interesting to see if new research will produce any useful findings on phobias about covering the face.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Courtney Lindwall
If you're one of those people cooped up safely at home, with creative energy and free time to spare—count yourself lucky. Here, we've rounded up a list of two dozen environmental projects that can make your time indoors, or right outside, a little brighter. Whether you're ready to start rescuing more of your kitchen scraps, sewing your own cloth napkins, or documenting those backyard butterflies, we hope these simple green ideas will provide a calming means of coping during these unprecedented times. Have fun and stay safe.
Experiment in the Kitchen<p><strong>Spice up mealtime with recipes from </strong><a href="https://savethefood.com/recipes/" target="_blank">Save the Food</a> that will also help prevent your food from going to waste. Make a fromage fort to spread on your crackers, or "scraps falafel" to use up wrinkly onions and wilted herbs. And for dessert, how about some <a href="https://savethefood.com/recipes/leftover-mashed-potato-apple-cider-donuts" target="_blank">leftover mashed potato apple cider donuts</a>? </p><p><strong>Rescue wilting herbs.</strong> Make <a href="https://savethefood.com/storage" target="_blank">herb oil ice cubes</a><a href="https://savethefood.com/storage" target="_blank"> by </a>packing diced herbs into an ice cube tray, covering with olive oil, and freezing. Thaw for ready-made flavor in your next dish. You can also transform less-than-fresh herbs into sauces, like chimichurri or pesto, or roast them and mix with salt to create longer-lasting seasonings. </p><p><strong>Start a windowsill herb garden. </strong>You'll need some seeds or a small plant, an upcycled container like a coffee canister that leaves room for growth and drainage, and a sunny ledge. (The Herb Society of America can help you determine <a href="https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/intro-to-herbs/hsa-gardening-for-kids/light-indoor-gardens.html" target="_blank">the right dose of light and water for each species</a>.) In a few weeks' time, you'll be ready to add a sprig of fresh basil to your bowl of pasta or diced cilantro to your batch of guac.</p><p><strong>Arrange a plant-based recipe swap</strong> with friends and family, which will reduce your diet's climate impacts while creating some virtual community. (Remember: If <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sujatha-bergen/saving-planet-starts-our-plates" target="_blank">every American cut just one hamburger</a> or about a quarter pound of beef out of their diet each week, we could reduce emissions by as much as taking about 10 million cars off the road each year.)</p>
Enjoy a Dose of Nature<p><strong></strong><strong>Make your own basic bird feeder</strong> using pine cones, twine, nut butter, and birdseed. <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B-rxsVfAvaa/" target="_blank">This video from the Feminist Bird Club shows you one way to do it.</a> Hang it on a nearby tree you can spot through your window, then grab a pair of binoculars and do some armchair birding!</p><p><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-and-why-be-seed-savior" target="_blank"><strong>Create an herbarium</strong></a>—a scrapbook of pressed, dried flowers or other plants. To prepare your samples, press the plant matter in a large book or between sheets of newspaper and place a weight on top. When the leaves are dry, mount them on acid-free paper to preserve them, and label each specimen on the page. You can also include illustrations, photographs, seed packets, and notes.</p><p><strong>Sharpen your naturalist ID skills.</strong> Try to identify every species of plant in your backyard or on a neighborhood walk. You can do the same for wildlife—and share your findings through <a href="https://www.projectnoah.org/" target="_blank">Project Noah</a>, a citizen science platform to discover, share, and identify wildlife.</p><p><strong>Grow new indoor plants</strong> with the use of stems and leaves, rather than seeds. Though it <a href="https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/how_to_propagate_houseplants" target="_blank">depends on your individual plant</a> species, propagating houseplants is often as easy as cutting off a stem or leaf from an existing plant and sticking it in soil or fresh water. If it takes, a new root system should form within a few weeks—leaving you with a hearty second plant within a few more months. (Pro tip: This works for green onions too! Nearly submerge their sliced-off roots, end down, into a glass of water that you change every few days. Voilà: a nearly endless supply of scallions.)</p><p><strong>Observe monarch butterflies</strong> in your backyard and share your findings with Monarch Watch, an organization devoted to their <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/monarch-butterflies-get-head-start-schoolyard" target="_blank">conservation</a>. Each year, monarchs make a remarkable 3,000-mile trek from as far north as the southern parts of Canada to the mountains of Mexico and back—but these pollinators are <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sylvia-fallon/monarch-butterfly-numbers-fall-again" target="_blank">in danger</a>. Register as one of Monarch Watch's citizen scientists to <a href="https://monarchwatch.org/calendar/?fbclid=IwAR1bawlAoraeMokwdiZa_GVONQqtDnqQxc_EM_UwzbO0zhq733PT6CQIgLc" target="_blank">help track the population's health</a>.</p><p><strong><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-turn-your-patch-earth-barren-bountiful" target="_blank">Boost your backyard biodiversity</a>. </strong>Plant some milkweed—the main food source for monarch caterpillars and egg-laying habitat for the butterflies. Hang a bee nesting box somewhere it can get sunlight and warmth. Add a barn owl box or attach a simple roosting perch to a pole. For reptile enthusiasts, set up a small wood pile, using brush or old logs as shelter for lizards and snakes (plus fungi).</p>
Do Some Handiwork and Art Projects<p><strong>Make face masks </strong>for your friends, family, and workers on the frontlines. This <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/DIY-cloth-face-covering-instructions.pdf" target="_blank">Center for Disease Control guide</a> breaks down different techniques. If you're comfortable sewing, you'll just need two 10-by-6-inch rectangles of fabric, two pieces of elastic, and a needle and thread for each mask. The no-sew option only requires a T-shirt and scissors. Remember: Cloth masks should be cleaned regularly (the CDC says a washing machine is sufficient) in order to remain effective.<strong></strong></p><p><strong>Get your crayons out </strong>and do some therapeutic coloring. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and as part of a collaboration with NRDC, Studio Number One and its creative director, artist Shepard Fairey, have converted some of its archival activist artwork into <a href="http://www.studionumberone.com/free-downloads" target="_blank">black-and-white printouts for at-home coloring.</a></p><p><strong>Tackle your plastic bag stash</strong>, especially if your city or town is among those that recently banned the bag. Since current conditions may eliminate collection and recycling programs for plastic bags in your area, consider upcycling them instead. There are plenty of online tutorials for how to make outdoor pillow cushions stuffed with plastic bags, weave bags into <a href="https://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-basket-out-of-plastic-bags/" target="_blank">sturdy baskets</a>, or wind them into jump ropes.</p>
Build Your Community<p><strong></strong><strong>Start an environmental movie club.</strong> Various apps let you host movie nights with friends online, so you can chat while you watch. You can find our recs for standout environmental films on <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B-QNBxqJAUR/" target="_blank">Instagram</a>—including <em>Poisoning Paradise</em>, <em>Virunga</em>, and <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-turn-your-patch-earth-barren-bountiful" target="_blank"><em>The Biggest Little Farm</em></a>—with short summaries and tips on where you can find them online.</p><p>Document the environmental changes in your community<strong>, as they relate to climate change, through the </strong><a href="https://earthchallenge2020.earthday.org/" target="_blank"><strong>Earth Challenge </strong>2020's online portal</a>. The project will collect billions of observations in air quality, plastic pollution, and insect populations, and your insights will help promote policy change to address our warming world.</p><p><strong>Tune in to a new podcast</strong>. We recommend <a href="https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/range/hot-take-4#/" target="_blank"><em>Hot Take</em></a>, featuring NRDC's own Mary Heglar and her cohost Amy Westervelt, which takes a critical but constructive, intersectional look at how climates issues are being covered in the media. And despite the weighty content of the podcast, laughter is one of its defining sounds.</p><p><strong>Connect with climate justice activists</strong> by following along with <a href="http://thisiszerohour.org/our-actions/#actions" target="_blank">Zero Hour's Getting to the Roots digital series</a>. Each week, it focuses on a different theme that is a root cause of the climate crisis as well as ways to solve it—through digital leadership training, webinars, virtual open mics on Instagram and Twitter, art competitions, and podcast releases.</p><p><strong>Write a </strong><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-write-successful-letter-editor" target="_blank"><strong>letter to the editor</strong></a> that tackles one of the environmental issues facing your community that's close to your heart. The letter can be written in response to a piece that's already been published by a given media outlet, or it can be a proactive statement of support for or opposition against a particular issue that affects fellow readers. It's the perfect way to reach thousands of individuals and still remain publicly engaged without having to leave the comfort of your home.</p>
By Nikolia Apostolou
Over a month into the lockdown and the usually bustling streets of Kalamata, a Greek city southwest of Athens traditionally known for its olives, are largely empty.