DIY T-Shirt Masks and Balaclavas: Military Services Release Face-Covering Guidance

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Demonstration of do it yourself facemask option.
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tyler Fraser demonstrates do it yourself facemask options per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance highlighted in NAVADMIN 100/20 onboard Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY) April 6. (Screen grab of U.S. Navy video/Taylor Curry)

The military branches are requiring troops to make their own cloth face masks after the Pentagon's latest policy directed face coverings for all personnel during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The Defense Department announced Sunday that troops, DoD civilian employees, contractors and family members are encouraged to make simple coverings out of clean T-shirts and other household materials. The do-it-yourself face coverings are mandatory whenever people cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or places of work, according to the policy, signed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

The DIY masks will help preserve much-needed N95 and surgical masks for health care workers, the policy states.

Some services have since posted updates to emphasize that personnel must stay in line with their respective uniform guidance. Service officials, such as those in the Air Force and Marine Corps, emphasized that base security checkpoints may require the lowering of masks to verify identification when coming onto an installation.

Related: Full Details: What You Need to Know About the Military's New Face Covering Policy

Here's what else you need to know:

The Air Force wants commanders to ensure face coverings worn by uniformed military members are "conservative, professional, and in keeping with dignity and respect" in compliance with current instructions, and "cover the mouth and nose," the service said in a release Monday.

"Various cloth items worn as face coverings -- scarves, T-shirts, neck gaiters, neck warmers, balaclavas, etc. -- may be acceptable as long as they are functional, cleaned and maintained," the release adds.

The Navy will also require face coverings to present a subdued appearance. The makeshift masks must cover the person from nose to chin, but cannot fully cover the face like a ski mask, according to a Navy-wide administrative message.

The masks must be tied behind the head or fastened by ear loops, states the guidance, posted Sunday. Masks should be made out of "multiple layers of fabric if the material is cloth," but should not restrict sailors' breathing in any way.

"Until official uniform face coverings are produced and implemented, personnel are authorized to wear medical or construction type masks, or other cloth covering such as bandanas, scarfs, etc. When in doubt, priority will be compliance with the [Centers for Disease Control] guidance for function over appearance or preferred date of implementation," the Navy guidance adds.

It was not immediately clear when or if the Navy will require sailors to wear "official Navy" face masks as part of the standard service uniform. There was also no timeline for such items to be manufactured.

Graphic gives instructions on constructing a t-shirt face covering to protect against COVID19.
Graphic from the DoD gives instructions on constructing a t-shirt face covering to protect against the spread of COVID19. (Graphic: U.S. Department of Defense)

At least one Marine Corps command is offering guidance on fit and look for masks.

Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools, the command that develops training for combat support military occupational specialties, posted a photo tutorial on its Facebook page on how to make a mask out of a T-shirt with no sewing required.

The command will require troops at Camp Johnson, North Carolina, to make their masks out of olive green T-shirts, according to the post.

While the Army has yet to publish explicit guidance, the Maryland National Guard released guidance for soldiers to wear masks that are "black, brown, olive green or tan in color," according to a memo obtained by Military.com.

"Masks will not have printed wording, logos, profanity, racist, demeaning or derogatory logos, script, or imagery," the memo states.

The Guard units, which are part of many deployed in areas where there are widespread COVID-19 cases, have been granted the use of commercial, medical-grade masks, the memo said.

"Leaders are asked to use their best judgment when it comes to color, fit and design of face masks and approach this as a force protection issue," it added.

The U.S. Coast Guard, part of the Department of Homeland Security, advised Coasties to use DIY face masks. It instructed them to store the masks appropriately to avoid contaminating others, and wash them as often as needed before wearing them again, according to the service's policy.

"Homemade and do-it-yourself cloth masks or personally-procured [coverings] are the preferred option for non-operational use," according to the Coast Guard guidance. "Face coverings are approved for wear in uniform," but members should strive to wear masks "of neutral solid coloring -- e.g. navy blue, black, gray or white," it said.

Other colors and patterns are permitted "if they are workplace appropriate," officials said.

The service stressed that, due to the nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment, surgical masks should be worn "as a last resort" and only with commanders' authorization.

"N95 respirators shall not be used for this purpose," the guidance adds.

-- Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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