As of Sunday, April 5th, 2020, the Secretary of Defense has required all service members, and anyone else aboard military installations, to wear face masks if they cannot maintain 6 feet of distance. Face masks will not be issued leaving many people wondering how to make face masks for service members.
The directive by the Secretary of Defense comes just days after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggested that all civilians wear face masks when in public. However, the CDC does not recommend that civilians purchase medical grade N95 masks or other medical supply masks but rather use cloth face coverings. The CDC had previously stated that healthy individuals did not need to wear face coverings, but given the evidence that COVID-19 can be spread by individuals who are asymptomatic (have the virus but do not exhibit symptoms) or pre-symptomatic (have the virus but have not yet begun to experience symptoms) it is now recommended that cloth face coverings are used when in public.
The recommendation of the cloth face mask is not necessarily meant to protect you from getting the virus, but more to help slow the spread of the virus if you happen to have it and do not know it. Social distancing is still recommended, and shelter in place orders are still in effect for many states, counties, and cities. In addition, the White House COVID-19 Coordinator, Deborah Birx, stated that civilians should not go to grocery stores or pharmacies unless absolutely necessary in the next two weeks as the United States is expected to see a rapid increase in coronavirus cases and deaths.
The Military’s Stance on Face Masks
When the recommendation by the CDC was first presented late last week, many service members wondered if they would also be required to wear face masks or if it would violate uniform requirements. The Secretary of Defense came out shortly after the official statement by the CDC and stated that they would present official guidance by the end of the weekend, which was made available last night. Here is the official directive by the Secretary of Defense:
Many service members are deemed “essential” and have continued to go into work, PT, and hold formations together despite the CDC’s long-standing recommendation to work from home whenever possible and to avoid any social gatherings of more than 10 people and to maintain a 6 foot radius of social distancing. Military families around the nation have been concerned about the spread of coronavirus as many units seemingly continued to work as usual, with service members going into work every day and having unit PT or formations on a regular basis. The number of service members infected with COVID-19 is not clear either as the Pentagon recently requested that the official numbers are no longer made public as it can affect national security.
However, the new directive by the Secretary of Defense calls for more swift action for those that are continuing to go into work. The directive states that cloth face masks must be worn any time 6 feet of social distancing can not be maintained. This directive is for anyone on a military installation or facility including military personnel, family members, DoD civilians, DoD contractors, and any other persons on a military installation.
In short, the directive states that:
- Anyone located on a military installation must wear a cloth face mask if 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained
- This directive includes family members and civilians
- Exceptions may be made and are at the discretion of direct commanders
- Lowering of a face mask may be required for identification purposes
- Household items like clean t-shirts can be used in the interim as a cloth face mask. Individual branches and military installations will give direct guidance on what is required and allowed within the coming days.
Many military installations have already issued guidance on recommendations for cloth face masks and have issued guidance on limiting social contact with those outside your homes. For example, at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, it is now punishable by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to be in a social gathering within or outside your home with people other than those in your immediate family. Service members are also not allowed to go anywhere except for work or for essential items for their family members.
How to Make Face Masks for Service Members
Each branch and each military installation will have different requirements as to what can be used as a cloth face mask. Currently, many military installations are allowing service members to use clean t-shirts, scarves, bandannas, or military-issued Gator balaclavas for temporary face masks. However, there are simple tutorials beginning to surface on social media with easy-to-sew cloth face masks if you would like to make your own for your service member and your family. Generally speaking, it is recommended that solid colors like black, dark green, or dark brown are used if you are making a mask for your service members.
What Type of Fabric to Use for a Face Mask
Cloth face masks are not as effective as medical grade face masks, but using the right type of fabric or a filter insert can make them more effective. A good test of fabric is to hold it up to light- the less light that shines through, the better. Here are the recommendations for fabric, their effectiveness, and filters you may want to consider using inside of your mask:
Here is a simple tutorial on sewing your own face mask:
*Note: If you aren’t super crafty or don’t have a sewing machine, you can use iron-on bonding tape instead
If you are looking for a simple, no-sew options here is another tutorial
*Note: Many people have stated that hair elastics are quite uncomfortable. Some military spouses recommend using boot bands instead
If there is one thing that military spouses are good at, it is helping each other in a time of need. Many spouses have started sewing face masks for neighbors and friends, so you may be able to find and support a military spouse who is making masks if you don’t want to make one yourself like fellow military spouse small business, Daisy Faye Designs.