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What I can do

My Take | June 22, 2020 | By:

by Janet Preus

We are far enough into this pandemic to realize it’s not going to be over soon. The need for face coverings for the general population, never mind the continuing shortage of PPE for health care workers and first responders, is growing, not shrinking. We are also learning more about how the coronavirus behaves and what needs to be done to protect against infection. Along with new information comes the opportunity to respond to current and future needs with new materials, textile treatments and production methods that will produce better products and get those products where they need to go quicker. 

Just in the last couple of weeks, I’ve run across several stories about manufacturers that have new products designed to not just protect against the virus but to actually kill it. It’s been dizzying to observe the speed with which new products have been made available! This underscores the ingenuity and engagement of businesses around the globe to lend their expertise to combating a universal, and still powerful, foe. 

In our most recent feature, “The evolving business of PPE,” Seshadri Ramkumar argues for new specifications for face coverings, including new standards, and stresses the importance of maintaining quality, as well. There is much we don’t know, especially in terms of details, but we do know that PPE and face coverings, generally, are important. 

Given the drive (and I’m sure sacrifices, too) that it has taken to provide us with better tools in this fight, it seems only reasonable to expect the average person, like me, to wear a mask when away from home. It has nothing to do with fear and everything to do with concern for others. The efficacy of your mask versus the one I’m wearing is still in question, but the efficacy of wearing a mask or not has been made clear: you are safer wearing a mask in a room full of people all wearing masks. Your safety factor drops for every person without a face covering, and if you choose to go mask-free, especially when nobody else is wearing one, you are taking a risk. 

If you haven’t read a story by someone who has had the virus and recovered, you should. The most recent story I heard was by a writing colleague, who is relatively young and has no underlying health conditions. He became so sick, compounded by a lack of sleep lasting for days, that he became suicidal. His story has a happy ending, but weeks later he was still not 100 percent back to normal. This illness is nothing like the flu. 

A simple, comfortable, inexpensive textile product—a face covering, worn by a person who may have infected him—might have prevented his illness. We can’t say this for certain, because he has no idea how he contracted the virus. But with so many things we don’t know about the pandemic, I would hope that everyone would do what they can, based on what we do know. 

Textiles have a critical role to play in bringing this terrible chapter in world history to a close. I’m grateful for the commitment that the industry has shown in coming together, going above and beyond in its efforts to collaborate, and ramp up research, development, prototyping and production to answer the call for an ample supply of better textiles and textile products.  By comparison, all I can do is write about them. 

And wear a mask. 

Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source. She can be reached at

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