FARGO — Once the highlight of the week for many people during the stay-at-home order, as of Friday, April 3, trips to the grocery store and other errands have gotten a little more mysterious — in the name of safety, of course.

Like something out of a weird masquerade ball (where you cover the lower half of your face instead of the upper half), people are donning homemade masks to help filter any virus particles that may be expelled from passersby.

While the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still studying the spread and effects of COVID-19 across the U.S., they do know that a number of individuals with the disease, do not show symptoms. Even worse, those who have the disease, but are not yet showing symptoms, are able to transmit the virus to others. Even when practicing social distancing, the virus can still be transmitted — through sneezing, speaking or coughing.

Because of the potential spread, the CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public areas where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain and especially in areas of large-scale community-based transmission.

Currently, surgical masks and N95 respirators are in short supply, even for people who need them the most (think healtcare workers and other medical first responders). While they're not quite as effective as the masks healthcare workers wear, cloth masks can still get the job done.

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In an article written by Tracy Briggs for InForum, she recounts her weekly trip to Hornbacher's while wearing a mask she got from her daughter's old Halloween costume.

"My younger daughter went as a character from “Grey’s Anatomy” for Halloween, and her medical mask had been stuffed in my kitchen junk drawer with Tic Tacs, Sharpies and Scotch tape," she writes. "It’s not good enough for real doctors but worked for those who play them on TV or go as them for Halloween (and it was good enough for me to use at the grocery store.)"

As she continued through her shopping trip, Briggs asked a woman why she was wearing a mask. The woman responded, "Why wouldn't you wear a mask? I know this (pointing to her cloth mask) isn't as effective as a medical mask, but it's better than nothing, right?"

Briggs then explains, "According to research done at Wake Forest University, N-95 masks (the ones often used by medical workers) filter out about 95 percent of particles as small as 0.3 microns, but fabrics you can find at home can come close. In fact, quilting fabric filters out as much as 79 percent, a pillow case folded over 4 times filters out about 60 percent and a bandanna folded four times over, about 20 percent. Scientists say if you have doubts about what fabric to use for a mask, just hold it up to a bright light. If the light easily passes through the fabric and you can see the fibers, choose another fabric for a mask."

Pretty easy stuff.

But how do you make your own mask?

Fortunately, there are a few different ways — and, even with using a sewing machine, they take less than 10 minutes.

Pleated mask

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, surgical masks have been in short supply. Some medical professionals are required to re-wear their masks for days on end, and must sanitize the already-worn masks at the end of each day.

Mask-sewing groups have popped up all over Facebook, with members sharing patterns for masks, making people aware of where their sewn masks can be donated and offering encouragement as these people pull out their sewing machines and get to work.

Sara Hammann is part of one of these groups. She, along with over 350 members of the Roseau Co. Medical Mask Crusaders have worked for weeks to create non-medical grade cloth masks for people in Roseau County and beyond — with some of these masks being donated to people at the VA Hospital right here in Fargo.

"I think we sent around 300 (masks) to the Fargo VA," Hammann says. "But we've had 900 (masks) stay local to Roseau County."

These masks are pretty easy to make. All a person needs is fabric, a sewing machine and a way to tie them on.

Pleated Mask.mpeg

To create the pleated mask, cut a 9-inch-by-16-inch rectangle of 100 percent cotton fabric. Fold in half on the short end (hamburger-bun style) and press with an iron to create a crisp edge. Then, using a fork, hook one tine under the edge of both pieces of fabric and flip to create a pleat. Press down with an iron to ensure the pleat stays in place and repeat that process until you have three pleats. Sew the edges of the mask, ensuring that a small pocket remains in the long edge of the mask for the wearer to insert a filter, if needed.

Cut two, one-yard strips of bias tape (or use shoelaces, nylons, t-shirt strips or whatever you can find) and sew to the mask on the short edge, ensuring the seams are hidden between the folds of the bias tape. Repeat on the other edge and voila — a hand-sewn face mask.

This mask can expand to fit the wearer's face, but no air pockets should be found around the edge of the mask to ensure protection.

Contoured mask

Another style of sewn mask is what Hammann calls the contour mask. It's more form-fitting to the wearer's face and is even faster to make than the pleated mask.

Contour Mask.mpeg

To create a contoured mask that form-fits to the wearer's face, cut fabric (an outer layer and a lining piece) on the fold, according to the pattern found here, to create four mirrored pieces. Lay the "fun" sides together and sew along the curve for both pieces. Match the pieces right-side-together, press the seams flat and sew along the top and bottom edges, leaving the sides of the mask (the part that goes closest to your ear) open.

Flip right-side-out and top stitch around the whole mask, creating a casing for the elastic to be threaded through. Insert a 20 to 22-inch piece of elastic and tie a knot.

Sara Hammann shows off one of her homemade contour-style cloth masks. Sara Hammann / Special to The Forum
Sara Hammann shows off one of her homemade contour-style cloth masks. Sara Hammann / Special to The Forum

Ensure there are no areas of the mask where air can get through, and you're ready to hit the town (as long as you stay six-feet apart!)

No-sew scarf mask

If you're less-than sewing-inclined, have no fear. Creating a new-sew mask is as easy as a few folds, cloth and some rubber bands.

WDAY reporters, Amy Unrau and Becky Parker made their own masks using a scarf found in Unrau's desk drawer and some rubber bands.

After folding their pieces of scarf over a few times to make a couple layers, Unrau and Parker fold the long ends of the mask to the middle, creating a hot dog bun-like piece of material. They slipped rubber bands on each end of the folded scarf and folded the short ends of the material to the middle and looped the rubber bands over their ears.

They checked for air holes and adjusted as needed and were ready to go on their errands.

"The idea is for people to be able to use them, and the CDC is recommending people wear them if you go to the grocery store or anything like that," Parker says. "The idea is to use something like this so the medical professionals are able to keep the medical-grade masks to themselves and the rest of us can make do with what we have."

People looking to make this at home can use what ever material they can find — whether that's a bandanna, a scarf or even old material — all while keeping in mind that the tighter the weave on the fabric, the more protection it will offer.