First, we were told we didn’t need to wear face masks.
Then, we were told there weren’t enough of them to go around.
And then, as more information trickled out about how the virus actually spreads, the messaging changed again. Before yesterday, it was “masks are for medical professionals only.” Today, it’s a far more panicky “JESUS CHRIST, MAKE A MASK OUT OF WHATEVER YOU CAN FIND.”
As the Trump administration and the CDC announced during Friday’s press briefing, cloth masks should now be worn in public, particularly in places where social-distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Per their instruction, it doesn’t matter what you make it out of; their best advice is that “household items” or “common materials” can be repurposed into what amounts to a DIY craft project for your face.
But since next to no one has a sewing machine, a ream of disposable fabric or the wherewithal to follow a sewing pattern — nice try, New York Times — people have had to do what they’ve always done in difficult times like these: improvise, adapt and overcome.
Ladies, gentlemen and everyone in between, I give you The Underwear Mask.
Cheap, easy-to-apply and definitely not sold out online, this debatably sanitary facial garment hugs every non-crucial curve of your face and will leave you with the comforting impression of your lover’s scent lingering somewhere between your lower nostrils and upper lip. And with its abundant supply — just look in your hamper! — it’s sure to be just the coronavirus gear you need to look fever-hot when you trot out for essential supplies.
Don’t be! Until the CDC or your local government equip you with masks you haven’t been accidentally sharting in for years, this innovative headwrap is, quite disturbingly, the best defense that everyday people without access to a real mask have against the virus.
It’s a surprisingly popular one, too. As Google searches for “underwear face masks” skyrocket to more than 100 times what they were in the beginning of March — particularly in Oklahoma, for some reason — a new online community of underwear heads is being born. All across YouTube to Twitter and beyond, people have been smothering their faces with men’s underwear and convincing themselves that huffing the butt-portion of their husband’s 12-year-old Hanes Ultimate™ Men’s Comfort Flex Fit Cotton/Modal Boxer-Briefs is going to save their lives.
To that end, so far, it looks like men’s boxer-briefs make the most functional and ninja-like facial blocker. What it cannot block, however, is your blinding and astonishingly unnecessary YouTube shirtlessness.
Not really a boxer, brief or boxer-brief kind of guy, though? Looking for a mask as risque as breathing within 10 miles of another person?
Say no more, because there’s also a jock-strap option for you, my friend:
And for all you coronavirus combatants who don’t have a massive stockpile of men’s undergarments to breathe shakily into as your pale indoor hand reaches for the last frozen DiGiorno in the freezer section at the store, never fear — according to a random but adorable British woman on YouTube, you can also envelop your entire upper respiratory tract in a nice ladies’ thong. The cotton crotch is, as a YouTube commenter points out, a “must” for extra filtration.
You can even, according to a small group of resourceful but incontinent Americans, use all the extra adult diapers you have laying around as COVID-19 protection. They may not be CDC-complaint, but they will make you look like an animate tampon, and if that’s not enough to scare the RNA right out of coronavirus’ bitchy little protein shell, then really, I don’t know what is.
Of course, while all this prophylactic panty-sniffing makes for a good dead-eyed pandemic chortle, the actual effectiveness of using underwear as a coronavirus defense is questionable at best. Is this all just a joke, or can huffing panties, boxers and other unmentionables really protect you from the dreaded virus?
L.A.-based acting coach and YouTuber Joshua Finkel thinks it can. After a friend sent him a video of a concerningly handsome man making a ninja-style face mask out of what one can only hope was his own lightly soiled boxer-briefs, Finkel decided to try the design out for himself with his own (clean) pair of drawers.
The moment he poked his head through the leg of an old pair of undies and tucked his face beneath its cotton-y embrace, he realized he was on to something. He loved his underwear mask so much that he released a video of him going “ninja shopping” in it, nose and mouth snuggled precariously close to the crotchal region of his “stretchy boxer underwear.”
In fact, ever since Finkel first started wearing his underwear on his face during rare public appearances at the grocery store — where he “zig-zags” down the aisle to avoid other customers and holds his breath as he passes them by — he’s been hard at work conducting homegrown “experiments” to see which style of underwear yields the most comfortable and protective fit.
Thus far, he’s found that while you can make a COVID-19 mask out of any type of male underwear, the “Speedo-style” — aka briefs — seems to work the best. “The waistline is less wide so it doesn’t choke you between chin and Adam’s apple,” he says. “There’s a tighter head wrap on boxer-briefs that’s kind of uncomfortable.” For the most part, no one can really tell he’s got underwear on his head, either. The way it’s wrapped, he just looks as confused and extra as everyone else.
But while his “Speedo mask” is low-profile, Finkel does feel it’s effective. “I do feel like it’s creating a filter,” he says. “There’s a steaminess against your face.”
That’s why he posted his underwear mask video. “I just needed to get the word out and wanted to have it spread really wide because it’s such a quick fix,” he explains. “Now that there’s the national order, you have to save your butt, because there is no Plan B. There is no Earth 2. We all have to be on Earth 1, listening to facts and not conspiracy bullshit. And if I can help in any way, like by making masks or door-dropping a meal, then I will. And if I can save your grandmother’s life by teaching her how to make a mask out of her panties, then I’ll do that, too. Gotta be smart.”
When asked whether he thinks wearing his underwear on his head could save his life, he responds emphatically: “Oh, absolutely. This is a life-saving measure, and the surgeon general confirmed that.”
Well, not exactly. What Surgeon General Jerome Adams did say during a White House press briefing is that the CDC is “advising simple cloth coverings to help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”
What that actually means, explains William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, isn’t that these “cloth coverings” are proven to prevent transmission or that wrapping a bandana around your face is going to keep you from getting sick. Rather, it means that they “may give you some modest additional protection.”
“Data supporting the use of facemasks of any kind by the general public in order to prevent the acquisition of a respiratory infection is pretty sparse,” he says. “We’re in the no science zone because there’s little or no information about the kinds of masks that you’re talking about [i.e., panties on your face] and how effective they might be in either preventing somebody from acquiring the infection or spreading it if they have it. When it comes to homemade masks, you’re really left with hopes rather than data.”
That’s why Jessica Sites, a labor delivery nurse in Tampa, put a clear disclaimer on her coronavirus boxer mask video: “Attention: This is a funny video, not an actual N95 mask!”
“I wouldn’t walk in with actual underwear on my head for anything,” she says. “I posted that video as a statement of how ridiculous things have gotten. People don’t even have the ability to get an appropriate mask, so I was kind of poking fun at the idea that people are resorting to anything that they can find in their house, be it a bandana, or fricking underwear.” Her husband, whose underwear it was, just sort of “put up with it.”
“God bless him,” she tells me.
For a minute, she worried that her video might give her viewers a dangerous and false sense of protection that could lead them to harm themselves or others, but in the end, she thought better. “It’s not going to filter the particular minute microns that the coronavirus actually is,” she continues, “but something is better than nothing. If the CDC is recommending a bandana, they might as well recommend underwear.”
Schaffner agrees, and past research on the efficacy of DIY masks against influenza concurs. While he’s skeptical of any homemade PPE, he says a DIY cloth mask — even one you make from your husband’s well-worn man panties — probably isn’t going to hurt. As long as people realize they’re not a substitute for social distancing and that they still have to self-quarantine, stand at least six feet away from people in public, wash their hands neurotically and disinfect everything they touch with a religiosity known only to saints, he doesn’t see a reason why people shouldn’t grasp at every last straw they have to stay safe.
That said, what kind of cloth mask you make does matter. According to an unpublished, non-peer reviewed fabric test by Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina (which, pathetically, is the best data we have), the top-performing DIY masks are constructed from at least two layers of heavyweight “quilters cotton” with a thick, tight weave and a thread count of at least 180. When used correctly, this type of amateur face mask actually performed better in his “study” than surgical masks — while the quilted cotton achieved 79 percent filtration, the surgical masks only reached 62 to 65 percent. Around the same time, Kaiser Permanente also published instructions on DIY masks that called for two layers of cotton fabrics.
For now, then, the takeaway is this: If you’re going to dive face-first into your boyfriend’s unbelievably luxurious high thread-count underwear (or your own), make sure you dive face-first into two or more pairs of it.
And if that’s still not an option?
Keep your eyes fixed on YouTube. As Finkel points out, it’s fast becoming the source for the kind of practical protective information everyday people aren’t getting from the government, and there’s bound to be some sort of scrappy facial-blocker that’ll suit your needs. “The lack of cohesive guidelines and the continuous spread of mixed messages about how people can keep themselves safe has caused people to look elsewhere for support,” he says, explaining that without real advice and leadership from the top, people are having to rely on “second-rung sources” like governors, individual doctors and even YouTube stars like him for actionable solutions to a monstrous problem.
“People are starting to want to hear more from honest, forthcoming advocates who are actually working hard to protect the public instead of being wishy-washy,” he says. “These little measures are life and death.”
Or for now at least, it’s life and the unnervingly stale smell of yesterday’s briefs.
The After-Dark Guide to Life in Quarantine
- Sex toys are becoming hard to come by.
- As the coronavirus spreads, public sex isn’t the safest idea — but that won’t stop this Italian throuple on Pornhub.
- A much safer option: join a 69-member digital sex party.
- Or check out Reddit’s r/QuarantineGoneWild.
- ♬ It’s a party for one / When we are quarantined / I’m getting high by myself / Back on my beat ♬
- Cruising Grindr in quarantine is frustrating when you crave real-life connection.
- You can make a surprisingly tasty “Quarantini” cocktail with Emergen-C.