First responders have rules and protocols they need to follow in various situations. For respiratory pathogens (like tuberculosis, ebola, and COVID-19), the protocol was for the responder to don an N95 or better (or HEPA) mask and then place one on the patient. I am not making this up; if I failed to use proper PPE as described here, I could be fired, and if I didn’t remember it on the medical text I had to take, I could fail:
However, as the national emergency of COVID-19 was declared and most of the governors in the United States (including Tennessee) ordered everything closed down, my station didn’t have any N95 masks. Nor could any regular person get them. After saying twice that masks don’t work against COVID, Fauci and the CDC suddenly declared we had to wear masks. And these are the masks all the regular people wore when going outside
At first, all we had was bandanas and scarves. Most people already had these in their wardrobe. Almost every major store chain limited the number of people who could go inside a building and required a facial covering. I remember standing outside in a long line outside Costco with a light scarf wrapped around my lower face. I still have a bandana that was sold by a local brewery for $10 so customers could go inside to buy a pint.
The paper surgical masks weren’t available either, but a whole lot of ingenious crafty people and businesses got to work making masks out of fabric. These were the masks most of us bought and collected and wore until mid-2021.
There were no standards for the masks. I had one (now lost) which was nothing more than a piece of stretchy fabric with slits cut for the ears and with a logo on it. Etsy crafters had a boon creating all sorts of masks for reasonable prices. I had a Thanksgiving mask that was curved to fit the face, and had three layers of thick fabric, along with an extra cotton insert. None of these fit tightly enough to disallow air from going out. Medical N95 masks were not sold anywhere. Industrial N95 masks were quickly snatched up for medical use whenever they were seen, and were thus also in short supply.
Airlines required passengers to wear masks, but bandanas were perfectly fine until early 2021, when the new Biden administration set up new FAA regulations requiring masks to firmly cover nose and chin. By then, the paper surgical masks were widely available again, so passengers with masks that were unacceptable (although they had been acceptable the year before) could be given a mask to wear.
At the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022, the US government gave out free P95 masks (like the one below.) I got one, but the by the time I got it, I was vaccinated, masks were no longer required, I could find N95 masks at my local Home Depot, and I had two bags full of cloth masks that weren’t being used any more. So that’s the mask history in a capsule. Inappropriate for the situation, unavailable, homemade, mandated, and government-issued…a year after the crisis is effectively over.