PROVIDENCE -- They are made of snazzy scarves, old T-shirts, and (hopefully) laundered socks.
Some are handmade, while others are clearly store-bought. Some are fancy, while others are simply plain.
But whatever the material or design, cloth face masks are the latest sign of how the coronavirus epidemic is changing the face of Rhode Island.
At the outset of the outbreak, public health officials were urging members of the public not to buy surgical face masks so as not to cause a shortage for medical personnel, and were on the fence about the efficacy of lower-grade paper or cloth masks. But recently, that message has changed in response to a new understanding of how the coronavirus spreads.
In short, as the Globe reported, you can carry the virus without knowing it, and you don’t have to be hacking and sneezing to infect someone. So now public officials are urging members of the public to wear cloth coverings on their faces.
On April 3, for example, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Department of Health, encouraged Rhode Islanders to consider wearing cloth face covers when in public.
The general public still should not be purchasing medical-grade masks, such as N95s, Alexander-Scott said. But she encouraged people to cover their nose and mouth with material secured to their head with ties or straps or simply wrapped around their lower face. She said people could make hand-sewn masks or use household items, such as scarves and T-shirts.
Alexander-Scott said public health officials are changing their message “because of how atypical the COVID-19 symptoms are.” People with COVID-19 may not feel like they have symptoms, or they may have mild symptoms and feel well enough to go out in public, she said.
“The primary role of a cloth face cover is to reduce the release of infectious particles into the air when someone speaks, coughs, or sneezes,” Alexander-Scott said.
But, she warned, “Cloth face covers are not substitutes for physical distancing, washing your hands, and staying home when ill.”
So, given those parameters, let’s see how Rhode Islanders are facing this public health crisis. Tweet a photo of yourself in your face mask, using the hashtag #RhodeMask.
To get us started, we collected #RhodeMask photos from public officials such as Governor Gina Raimondo, Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, House Minority Leader Blake Filippi, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa.
We also gathered photos of the masks worn by Rabbi Sarah Mack, poet Amy Pickworth, former attorney general Arlene Violet, and NAACP Providence branch President Jim Vincent.
But let’s not stop there. Let’s see how other Rhode Islanders are facing the outbreak.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org