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Everybody Mask Now

Doctors at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital are asking everyone in Alaska to wear masks across their mouths and noses. They say a homemade mask, bandana or scarf would be helpful in slowing the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. As KUAC’s Robyne reports, a lot of people are responding.

The Fairbanks Unified Incident Command now routinely hosts a press conference to give updates about COVID-19 case counts, testing and treatment. They answer a lot of questions and share their frustrations.

Dr. Mark Simon is an ER doc at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. He took the podium at the last press conference imploring the public to wear masks.

“The main reason to use a homemade mask is to protect those around you, from you.”

He’s not talking about sterile masks used in a surgery or the N95 filtration masks that doctors use to keep virus particles out.

He means anything that stops you from spewing out droplets from your mouth. A bandana, a scarf, even a Buff – those polyester tubes that Alaskans wear across their faces in winter. Any of those would work.

“When we talk, when we laugh, when we cough, we emit tiny droplets – these can contain infectious virus. People with COVID-19 may have very mild symptoms or even no symptoms at all. That person with an infection, but little or no symptoms may be me. And that person may be you.”

Foundation Health Partners, who puts on the press conferences, took Dr. Simon’s three-minute speech and put it on">YouTube, where it has been viewed thousands of times.

Simon says masks also have the function of keeping us from touching our faces, where we tend to infect ourselves.

Starla Halbrook of Fairbanks is the administrator for a Facebook group calledMaking Masks for Our Medical Heroes. She has several sewers working on requests from medical providers and essential workers in Alaska and other states. She warns that homemade masks are more about protecting other people than protecting the wearer.

“So, it is not what you want to have on if you were treating someone with coronavirus, but it is a barrier of sorts that will be better than nothing. It definitely is a means for slowing the spread.

There are hundreds of new videos posted every day on YouTube and other platforms, showing how people are making masks at home, even taking apart vacuum cleaner and furnace filters to make the masks safer.

Maliko Ubl works with another FaceBook group called Fairbanks Mask Makers. She says the site has hundreds of people volunteering time, sewing, fabric and support.

The Mask Makers Facebook page has hundreds of masks from the Fairbanks community, to distribute to places like the Rescue Mission, the Breadline, to the women’s shelter.”

The group is trying to adjust to changes every day and will shift to providing masks to essential workers.

Dr. Simon warns homemade face masks are another strategy to reduce people swapping droplets and aerosolized particles.

“If you do have to leave the house, practice strict social distancing, a minimum six feet apart, practice impeccable hand and face hygeiene, and please, wear a homemade mask.”