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In a Nutshell: Complying with the face-covering mandate

Gov. Baker’s executive order srongly discourages average citizens from using medical-grade masks because they must be reserved for health care workers and first responders. And although just several weeks ago face coverings for the average citizen were scarce, they are now widely available online. However, for those who want or need to obtain supplies locally, several options are listed here.

  • Small packages of single-use, surgical-style masks are available for sale at Acton Pharmacy, 563 Mass. Ave., West Acton.
  • The Council on Aging can provide cloth masks for older residents for pickup or drop-off; call 978-456-4120, Monday to Friday, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • The Lions Club offers cloth masks, free of charge and handmade (with ties or elastic) by its members. The club takes requests through email at People can pick up their masks—orders are marked by name—in the front lobby of St. Theresa Catholic Church, 15 Still River Road. For information, go to

Why face coverings?

According to research into other respiratory illnesses spread by airborne droplets—as is COVID-19—face coverings are no substitute for personal protective equipment, but can help prevent people who show no symptoms from infecting others. Existing studies suggest that at least 25% of COVID-infected people don’t show illness, though experts say that COVID-19 and virus antibody testing needs to be more widespread and properly timed before a definitive figure is known. (For instance, Iceland has tested 6% of its population, the most per capita, so far, of any country; of those who tested positive, 43% lacked symptoms at the time of testing.) In addition to the order requiring face coverings in public places, advisories for handwashing, staying at home, and social distancing remain in effect. (See also Consider This, “The case for face coverings” on page 3.)

Using face coverings effectively

Note that single-use paper masks should not be reused, according to the World Health Organization. The following guidelines for cloth face coverings are from the Johns Hopkins Research Center for Safety and Occupational Health:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before you put on the mask.
  • If your mask has ties, secure the bottom ties first with a bow around the nape of your neck. Then pull the mask by the upper ties over your mouth and chin and secure around your head.
  • Wash your hands every time you touch your mask.
  • Wash your mask every time you remove it and wash your hands with soap and water after removing the mask. Put the mask somewhere isolated until it can be washed.
  • Assume that there could be virus on both sides of the mask any time you touch it.
  • Wear a clean mask each time you need to put one on.

Sources: Johns Hopkins Research Center for Safety and Occupational Health, New England Journal of Medicine (Spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the Icelandic Population).

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