The shortage of personal protective gear (PPE) for health care workers led community members to make cloth masks to help protect people on the front lines of COVID-19. Many health care and essential workers still need cloth masks.

We all need to wear face coverings. Since many people may have COVID-19 with no symptoms, any one of us might spread the disease without knowing. If you wear a mask, you protect me. If I wear a mask, I protect you. If we both wear a mask, the protective value is significant.

World Health Organization on Wearing Face Masks

NY Times Guide to Masks and Personal Protective Equipment

Cloth face coverings are becoming mandatory. Some communities now require face coverings be worn in certain situations, especially places of business like grocery stores and pharmacies. Other cities are likely to follow suit. Businesses may sell face coverings to customers who show up without one, but it’s best to be prepared with your own in order to avoid being refused service, and to comply with the law.

The City of Santa Barbara’s Ordinance requiring face masks in congregate settings

Limitations of Cloth Face Coverings

Cloth face coverings are not as effective as N95 or surgical masks at protecting the wearer from COVID-19. The Center for Diseases Control (CDC) is very clear: “A cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer, but it may prevent the spread of virus from the wearer to others — this would be especially important if someone is unknowingly infected and not showing symptoms.”

Physical and social distancing are still essential to reducing the spread of the coronavirus, but face coverings may help: “Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing and washing hands and staying home when ill, but they may be helpful when combined with these primary interventions.”

California Department of Public Health: Face Coverings Guidance

What’s an acceptable face covering?

The CDPH defines cloth face coverings as: “a material that covers the nose and mouth. It can be secured to the head with ties or straps or simply wrapped around the lower face. It can be made of a variety of materials, such as cotton, silk, or linen. A cloth face covering may be factory-made or sewn by hand, or can be improvised from household items such as scarfs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.”

Most people have access to some form of these materials, and can make their own face covering if they don’t have access to one made by a sewist.

Center for Disease Control instructions for making your own mask or face covering

Homemade mask instructions by the The New York Times

The New York Times offers a detailed overview on cloth masks and personal protection

For those with no sewing skills, or in need of something easy and close at hand, a cloth face covering can be as simple as folding a dish towel and using rubber bands. The U.S. Surgeon General offers a brief tutorial to make this simple mask.

Note: Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children younger than two years of age, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance.

How to find a cloth face covering?

The Santa Barbara County Mask Network matches up mask makers with organizations and groups at high risk (health care workers, people in high-density settings or without a home, front line and essential workers, and other high-risk community members). If your organization serves this group, you can request masks here. We are not able to supply the general public with masks.

If you’re able to buy a mask, there are more and more businesses selling them at affordable rates. The Mask Network does not recommend any one person or company for mask purchases, but we do offer a list of known mask makers in our Marketplace.

However, we urge you to ask any potential seller if they are following CDC guidelines, and what materials and designs they are using. Sellers may sign up to be listed in our Marketplace.

Center for Disease Control on Face Coverings

Why do you need to wear cloth face coverings?

In light of new data about how COVID-19 spreads, along with evidence of widespread COVID-19 illness in communities across the country, CDC recommends that people wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth in a communal setting. This is to protect people around you if you’re infected but without symptoms.

When do you need to wear a cloth face covering?
A cloth face covering should be worn whenever people are in a community setting, especially in situations where you may be near other people. These settings include grocery stores and pharmacies. These face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing.

Do I still need to stay at least six feet away from people if wearing a cloth face covering?

Yes. Wearing cloth face coverings is an additional public health measure people should take to reduce the spread of COVID-19. CDC still recommends that you stay at least six feet away from other people (social distancing), and that you practice frequent hand cleaning, with soap for twenty seconds, along with other everyday preventive actions.

A cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer, but it may prevent the spread of virus from the wearer to others. This would be especially important if someone is infected but does not have symptoms. View CDC’s guidance on how to protect yourself.

What type of cloth face covering should be worn?

Cloth face coverings can be made from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost.

The New York Times has a practical pattern, plus their User’s Guide to Face Masks shows a simple t-shirt mask video.

The surgeon general posted a video on how to make a no-sew cloth face covering. It’s as simple as folding a dish towel with rubber bands.

CDC Guidelines on sewing, wearing, and caring for a cloth face mask


These pattern designs by Created for Crisis with Masks Now are created to meet and exceed CDC Guidelines. With instructions and video tutorial: