Should I really wear a homemade mask when I go out, and what if I can’t sew?

Some public health officials say it might not hurt to wear homemade masks out in public as along as it's not at the expense of proper handwashing and social distancing. Submitted photo

FARGO — It’s hard to keep up isn’t it? For months, health experts said healthy people didn’t need to wear masks to protect themselves from coronavirus. But as the scientists learn more about the deadly virus, they seem to be using the old adage, “it couldn’t hurt.”

“I don’t think there is any evidence that this is going to make things worse, but there is evidence that it provides some additional good,” Yale Public Health Professor Robert Hecht recently told the New York Times.

In fact, the CDC is recommending the general public wear face masks when out in public.

One thing that won’t change is the insistence that the highest grade medical masks, called N95 respirator masks, be reserved for health care workers and emergency responders on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis. But with the current shortage of medical masks, the CDC issued a statement saying other face coverings, scarves, bandannas and homemade masks might be used as a last resort for care of patients with COVID-19, ideally in combination with other protective gear.


Emily Brooks has sewn face masks and headbands to donate to medical professionals since the early days of the Covid crisis. Submitted photo

Emily Brooks, of Fargo, began sewing masks as soon as the call went out nationwide that some medical workers were in need.

“I've donated all of the masks I've made to hospitals and organizations in the health care industry who have requested them," said Brooks, who says after the first 100 masks, she lost track of how many she's made. "All of my time, labor and supplies have been donated. Matt and Lindsey Lee, owners of Goin' Postal in downtown Fargo, have donated the cost of shipping the masks I've made for donation."

Brooks is even taking it a step further, making headbands for medical professionals in need of added comfort with mask-wearing.

“I've started making headbands with buttons at the request of healthcare workers whose ears are hurting from the prolonged use of face masks," said Brooks. "Some have even said their ears are raw on the back. The mask attaches to the headband instead of behind the ears to hold it in place on the face."

She’s not alone. If you listen closely, you can probably hear the whir of sewing machines all over America as sewing enthusiasts are trying to do what they can to help.

Susie Ekberg-Risher, a former Fargoan now living in the Twin Cities, has been making masks to donate to healthcare organizations. But now more individuals are looking for them. Submitted photo


Former Fargoan Susie Ekberg-Risher, now living in the Twin Cities, has made 500 masks over the last few days and has a goal of at least 500 more.

But what if you’re one of those people who hasn’t sewed a stitch since eighth grade home economics? There are other options. You can try to buy one. While many of these home sewers are mainly making masks to donate to medical professionals, some are offering them online. is a good place to search.

Danette Nicoloff, of Fargo, who has an autoimmune disease, used a little creativity to protect herself when she had to go to work.

“I had an old bra, and the wires were coming out," Nicoloff said. "So I took the padding out and used hot glue to attach the hair ties. I know the mask won’t stop me from getting it, but I thought a little protection would be better than nothing."

People are getting creative with homemade masks, like using old bra cups and hair ties. Submitted photo

Dr. Renae Reinardy, of Fargo, posted a tutorial on Facebook for those of us who are more ‘bandit’ than ‘seamstress’, teaching us how to make a mask out of a bandanna.


Scientists' tips and tricks about homemade masks

Sewing enthusiasts have been busy for weeks making homemade masks to help during the Covid crisis. Submitted photo

  • If no one inside your home is infected or sick, there is most likely no need to wear one indoors with your loved ones.

  • Wear it in public (going to the grocery store, pharmacy) — anytime you might come in contact with people.

  • You probably don’t need to wear it walking the dog, unless you plan to run into other humans.

  • The thicker the material the better. Think: felt or cotton t-shirts. If you use a bandanna, fold it many times over (as Reinardy does in her video).

  • If you don't want to make your own mask by either sewing or using something like a bandana, some are available for online purchase at sites like . But again, these are not medical grade.

  • While wearing a homemade mask probably couldn’t hurt, it does not replace social distancing and hand-washing, which has been proven to be effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

  • If, by some chance, you are in possession of unused quantities of medical grade masks, donate them to a health care facility.

  • If you'd like to donate medical quality or homemade masks to health care or other facilities, call first. Some will have pre-scheduled curbside drop-off dates.

Other Resources:

Minnesota Department of Health Interim Guidelines on alternative facemasks

Here's the pattern Emily Brooks uses or another easy one to follow

Click here If you’d like to purchase headbands to donate for healthcare workers. Brooks will make sure they are delivered. She’s using the funds to off-set the costs she’s incurred from the making of the masks.


Tracy Briggs is an Emmy-nominated News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 35 years of experience, in broadcast, print and digital journalism.
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