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Wider use of face masks for COVID-19 protection recommended by governor, CDC

In its second month spreading across Colorado and the rest of the nation, the coronavirus pandemic reached a new milestone Friday with two separate recommendations to expand the use of facial masks as added protection against the deadly outbreak.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, both strongly advised an increased use of masks among people confined to their homes while obeying orders to continue social distancing to slow the spread of the pandemic.

During a media briefing Friday in Denver, Polis said the masks in question are not the high-quality medical masks that are in high demand and short supply among professionals, patients and others at greatest risk for transmitting or contracting the virus.

"We're talking about non-medical masks made of old clothing or other fabric that covers the face and mouth," he said. "You can make them yourself at home, and use them when you go to the store or when normal social distancing isn't possible."

Polis said such masks should be washed in hot water after each use and that users should avoid touching the masks -- or their noses, mouths and faces -- while wearing them."

"After you remove the mask, wash your face and hands for 20 seconds," he said. "We'll be doing this for the foreseeable future."

Several local manufacturers who have steeped forward during the pandemic to meet the demand for face masks, said they're glad the recommendations were made because thousands of people need the masks.

"It's completely feasible," said James Vandiveer, a Manitou Springs provider. "We did it in 1918 (during the Spanish flu pandemic). If you look at the historical photos from that period, everyone's wearing a mask.  So, we've done it before.  After 1918, the Asians kept the tradition, but we kind of forgot it -- or just didn't want it.  It wasn't very American for us."

Another local manufacturer, Merry Mask Makers, has distributed 4,300 masks since starting two weeks ago.

"We have 500 seamstresses and tailors helping us out," said founder Alexandrea Dillon. "But we need more. We're making masks not just for regular citizens but for social service and law enforcement agencies."

Sarah Tuneberg, of the governor's Innovation Response Team, said officials have set a weekly goal of making and distributing 100,000 masks as part of the Colorado Mask Project.

"We'll use existing agencies like food banks to deliver masks to our most vulnerable residents and essential workers," she said.

But will enough people wear masks to make a difference?

"I wore one for the first time (Friday) because my daughter was worried about me and brought it to me," said Margaret Williams. "I'll wear it when I go to the store."

"I think it might be a little overused -- like taking too much medication when you don't need it," said Cindy Kerr, who wasn't wearing a mask when she went shopping Friday.

Experts said not all masks are the same, and people should do their own research on what materials the masks contain and how well they can filter out the virus.

Polis encouraged people to consider the masks "cool" and "fun."

"They'll allow all of us to return to work sooner and save lives, as we build the medical capacity we need to address the surge of patients in Colorado," he said.

Article Topic Follows: Health

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.


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