comscore Kokua Line: Disposable dust masks OK in lieu of cloth facial cover, city says | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News | Kokua Line

Kokua Line: Disposable dust masks OK in lieu of cloth facial cover, city says

Question: Under the mayor’s new orders, are we allowed to use the one-time-use paper masks that are used to filter out pollen, dust, smoke and bacteria, in lieu of cloth masks?

Answer: Yes. “Those type of masks are fine. The reason we recommend people make masks from cloth material they have laying around the house is so we can save medical supplies for our hospitals and first responders,” said Alexander Zannes, spokesman for Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

You are one of many readers to ask this or similar questions, having stocked up on disposable face masks long before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control promoted face masks as an important coronavirus prevention tactic for the general public. With medical-grade masks in short supply and needed by health care workers, the CDC recommends homemade, cloth face masks as a viable option for members of the general public who can’t maintain at least 6 feet of space between themselves and others while venturing out for essential tasks.

Numerous readers said they have disposable, surgical-style face masks that they purchased in January as word of the outbreak in China spread, or that they had previously acquired for another reason, such as mango picking, woodworking or some other task; a few said they had worn such masks in public for years, for health reasons.

Zannes confirmed that people can wear those masks in situations where the mayor’s order calls for a “non-medical grade face covering,” or “face covering,” which are defined in the order as “a tightly woven fabric without holes that is secured to the head with either ties or straps, or simply wrapped and tied around the wearer’s nose and mouth.”

The order, which took effect Monday, requires both parties in a customer-oriented transaction at an essential business to wear a face mask. For examples: Grocery shoppers and cashiers must wear masks, as must bus passengers and bus drivers. There are exceptions, such as during bank transactions, as well as for children under age 5 and for people with health conditions that make wearing a mask risky. You can read the full order at

Since the order was issued, we’ve heard from numerous readers who fear being turned away from grocery stores, pharmacies or other essential businesses because they have health conditions that make it dangerous for them to cover their mouth and nose. Advised that the order has a health exemption, they were not dissuaded, insisting that the exemption would not stop a store manager from invading their privacy by asking why they weren’t wearing a mask. Their concerns are noted.

We also heard from a reader who complained of being “mask shamed” because she had not donated her supply of surgical-style masks to a health care facility. She wore them on her daily walks, provoking stink eye, she said. “As if,” the caller said, “taking personal responsibility for my own health and the health of others long before the government mandated it somehow makes me uncharitable. The virtue signaling is becoming unbearable.”

The CDC was slow to advise the general public to wear face masks, insisting at first that only people caring for COVID-19 patients needed to wear them. Once it changed its recommendation, the health agency said that the general public should wear cloth face coverings because medical-grade face masks were in short supply and should be reserved for health care workers or other medical first responders.

The CDC says a cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer, but might prevent the spread of the virus from the wearer to others. Many people infected with COVID-19 show no symptoms.

Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

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