The Corona-19 pandemic will likely be with us until mid 2021, when a vaccine can be developed and given to everyone, or when everyone has immunity to the virus because they previously were exposed to it, or when widespread testing and contact tracing is available. Until then, preventing exposure is the only way to not get sick. Social distancing is important, but is not always possible. Someone in the family will have to go shopping, and someone in the family might get sick. Masks are one way to decrease the chances of infection, but they are in short supply at this time. A very servicable mask can be made from a paper towel. Surgical masks do not completely prevent infection, but they can limit the amount of virus a sick patient sheds, and they can limit the amount of droplets that get into your nose and mouth. Home-made masks will be less effective than a commercial surgical mask, so don't use one unless you have no access to a commercial mask.

This is a technique of making a surgical mask out of a paper towel that Dr. Nelson has developed and uses now in his office when commercial masks are not available.


These are the parts that you will need: two sheets of a full-size paper towel, two rubber bands (to go around the ears), two pieces of thin cardboard (such as from a box of cereal), and a strip of metal cut from a soda pop can (to form the nose piece). You will also need some white glue and a stapler.

Start by cutting out the cardboard, two pieces about 1 1/2 inches by 3 inches. Fold them in half, lenthwise. Set aside.

Cut out a strip of metal from a soda pop can, slightly smaller then 1/4 inch and about 3 inches long. Set aside.

Lay both paper towels down, one on top of the other, wider dimension horizontially. Fold the top of both of the paper towels across their width, just slightly wider than the metal strip. Glue the fold shut. Fold it over three more times and glue. This will both prevent the metal strip from cutting the wearer and will reinforce the edge of the paper towel.

Fold the bottom of oth of the paper towels across their width, about two times and glue.

Fan fold the middle of the paper towel across its width, about four times, about 1/2 inch folds, like this:

Slip the rubber band into the fold of the cardboard, add some glue to the inside of the fold, then place the paper towel into the fold. Pinch the cardboard over the fan fold in the center (not the top or bottom), hold for a few seconds, then staple in the middle only, over the fanfold. The glue will stabilize the paper towel so that you can get the staple in, and reinforces the staple.

Repeat for the opposite side.


Add some glue to the top and bottom of the fold of the cardboard. Keeping the rubber band in the fold but out of the way, tease the upper and lower folded margins of both paper towels into the fold and press for a few seconds, then staple. Repeat for the opposite side.

Gluing a slight tuck on the bottom margin of the mask, on the right and left sides, will tighten up the fit of the mask (see the bottom right image, with the person wearing the mask, from the side view, to see the tuck, one inch from the cardboard.)