Is wearing a mask in public the new normal? Health officials say, it should be

If you leave your home this weekend, you'll likely notice a lot more people wearing masks, as the CDC is now suggesting people wear cloth coverings over their face when in public settings. One local doctor tells us, this announcement was absolutely necessary.

"It's about time, and it makes great sense to me...I would actually feel better if when I went to the grocery store everybody else was wearing a mask," says Dr. Dan Diamond, who is an assistant clinical professor at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

Dr. Diamond says the new recommendations coming from the top local and national health officials are significant because so many of us are walking around with the virus without knowing it. "Instead of asking what can I do to keep from getting the virus, which is a great question, this is a question of 'how can I most love the people in my community?' And protect them from getting it because maybe I’m already infected and I’m one of the folks who doesn’t have any symptoms."

He's quick to point to that surgical masks and N95's absolutely still need to be reserved for healthcare workers, and really aren't necessary anyways for a grocery store run anyways. "You don’t need an N95 surgical grade mask to prevent the spread to other people, you just need to put some cloth over your face so if you sneeze or cough, and stuff comes spraying out, it gets stuck in the mask and it doesn’t get put out for someone else to breathe."

Sewing homemade masks is something so many people in our community have already been doing. Friends Kim Brunelle Kuehnel and Jennifer Jones decided to try to put their sewing skills to work to try to help local hospitals about two weeks ago. "We were just a couple people who were going to sew like 20 masks, to now we are now experts in supply chain management and sanitation in cloth products and distribution channels," says Jennifer.

Now the two run a Facebook group called the Whatcom Mask Collective, with over 700 members, who've made over 6,000 masks.

"I couldn’t believe that there was a need for homemade cotton masks. I found it astonishing, surprising, confusing." And Kim is just talking about the need for homemade masks from people on the front-lines of the pandemic. So, in some ways, today's announcement makes things a little tricky. Suddenly they're getting requests for masks from regular people, neighbors, and friends.

"This need is growing and we’ve encouraged our members to please keep sewing for our original mission so we can continue to serve the community-but also we know that our members are getting these requests as well," says Jennifer. They, like so many of us are now navigating finding the balance between still prioritizing front-line workers, and also trying to keep everyone in the community safe.

Kim says she understands firsthand why now everyone wants a mask."I started wearing a mask a few days ago to the grocery store and now I feel very weird and vulnerable without it-that's truly part of flattening the curve is everyone having one-but where are they going to come from?"

As the demand for masks looks like it's only going to grow more rapidly now than ever, Jennifer says the best solution is for everyone who can help, to get working. "I would really encourage people to drag out the old sewing machine and give one mask a try and see what happens!"