After almost six months of living through the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing a mask in public has become almost second-nature to many people. For some, face coverings have become fashion staples, DIY projects and even sentimental items.
For first-year student Nina Scott, mask-wearing has become fashionable as well as practical.
“I find joy in having whatever I’m wearing all coordinate,” Scott said.
Before making the move to Chapel Hill, Scott's grandmother, worried for her granddaughter's safety, sewed her multiple masks to use while at college. Though she did not end up moving to campus, and while she may not use her masks as often as anticipated, she continues to wear them with style.
She has even gone so far as to incorporate a mask into her Halloween costume plans.
“I told (my grandmother) to make a lot of them pink, because I’m really into pink right now,” Scott said. “I was planning on going (for Halloween) as the Sanrio character, My Melody and if it’s pink, it’ll match.”
Much like Scott, first-year student Yasmin Shemer recounts that she didn’t go out in public much when the pandemic first began. When Shemer first started going out, she would wear blue medical masks, but began to invest in some reusable ones when she realized the situation would become more permanent.
“It’s now another accessory, like saying, ‘oh, I like your shoes,’” Shemer said.
While she was on campus, she worked at the Student Stores, where employees must wear Carolina colors as part of the dress code. Shemer enjoyed wearing one of her favorite Tar Heel masks to her job, and was pleased with the homemade coverings she purchased from a Facebook vendor and classmate.
There are different kinds of masks, including personal protective equipment, which protects the wearer, and community protective equipment, which protects those who come into contact with the wearer.
Phillip Clapp, a research assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and worker at the Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma, and Lung Biology explained that there are different levels to masks protection.
“In this situation, we’re wearing the mask to protect each other as much as it’s protecting us,” Clapp said. “To have effective CPE you need something that’s going to be comfortable and able for you to wear for extended periods of time while you’re out in public.”
Devin Hubbard, teaching assistant professor in the UNC/NCSU joint Department of Biomedical Engineering and lead design engineer at FastTraCS agrees that protection should be effective and comfortable.
“For a mask to be as protective as best as it can, there are three major things, Hubbard said. “The first is the material itself, but that only works if it fits well, which is the second requirement. The third thing is when you put too little filter material, it’s like (breathing through) a bunch of tiny little straws. When you do that, you increase the pressure drop across that material, and that allows particles to sneak their way into the other side of the mask.”
When considering different masks, Clapp said a regular bandana is about 50 percent effective when it is doubled up and surgical masks range between 30 to 50 percent.
“The most important thing isn’t the type of mask or whether you’re using a surgical mask or a t-shirt, it’s that you’re using something in public,” Clapp said. “I think people are trying to be better about how they’re wearing it.”
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