17 Aug 2020

Kiwis encouraged to buy or make their own face masks

7:19 am on 17 August 2020

New Zealand's new advisory on masks is encouraging people to buy or make their own in order to help reduce spreading the virus.

University students in Auckland, Rebekah Levesque, Josephine Palmer, Dannii Cooke and Vanessa Be, wear masks as they pick up supplies.

University students in Auckland, Rebekah Levesque, Josephine Palmer, Dannii Cooke and Vanessa Be, wear masks as they pick up supplies. Photo: RNZ / Leilani Momoisea

Aucklanders are being asked to wear a face covering when outside the home, and the rest of the country should wear one when in a confined public space, such as using public transport or in the supermarket

While some people have brushed off their sewing machine to make their own, others are buying masks from fashion labels.

Nanotechnologist and science educator, Dr Michelle Dickinson, also known as Nanogirl, said research showed masks were highly effective if worn properly, explaining particles could only travel up to 6cm rather than 2.5m if no mask is worn.

"Wearing any mask is better than not wearing a mask but there are different masks that work more effectively than others."

There are three main types of masks: N95 respirator masks, surgical masks and cloth or home-made masks.

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Dr Michelle Dickinson. Photo: RNZ

The N95 masks offer ultimate protection and should be left to frontline workers, but what people need to look for is "tightly woven fabric that has a seal close to your face..."

She said two layers of quilting fabric or cotton was the best material for people wanting to make their own mask.

Cotton offered more protection than fleecy materials like wool, "the higher the thread count the better," she said.

If you get really stuck, using a "couple of folded hankies [handkerchief] can be used with elastic bands just cover your nose and your mouth."

Dickinson said holding up your material to the light was a good test the effectiveness of a mask whether buying or making.

"If you can see through it [material] - it's ineffective ... and droplets will spread through easily."

Also using a mask with valves at the front is "totally ineffective" and people should stay away from using/buying these, she said.

Popular New Zealand fashion labels have been selling masks like hot cakes, with some designers reporting more than 300 orders daily.

Otara-based fashion designer Tasha Lee, whose brand is named after herself, made the switch from creating ball and bridal gowns, to making masks due to impacts of the pandemic.

She said during the first ever lockdown they sold about 5000 masks and looking fashionable was front of mind. But this time she was only making them in plain black.

"In the first lockdown we were doing different colours. Now we are keeping it simple. They are filtered, they are washable, and made from mechanical cotton."

Face masks made by Otara-based designer Tasha Lee.

Face masks made by Otara-based designer Tasha Lee. Photo: Supplied

Lee said at this stage they had too many orders to count, but hoped people would take the mask advice seriously.

"I want everyone to be safe. If this helps in protecting people - come to us we can help."

Tasha Lee was also giving away free masks for the elderly after seeing many senior citizens shopping without a mask in Auckland.

"We have a free box for our elderly so they can come and collect that for free," she said.

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