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Justin Fox

Cloth Masks May Look Better, But They Don’t Work Better

When disposable surgical masks were scarce, cloth was a reasonable alternative. Now, not so much.

Tempted to get fancy with cloth? Don’t.

Tempted to get fancy with cloth? Don’t.

Photographer: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

It was nice to see everybody, Democrats and Republicans alike, wearing face masks at President Joe Biden’s inauguration last week. Former President Donald Trump’s refusal not only to wear masks but also to countenance his aides doing so was one of the silliest and most self-defeating aspects of his literally self-defeating Covid-19 response, although it did seem to provide some more evidence that masks work, given how many people at the White House ended up getting the disease.

It was a little unsettling, though, to see how flimsy some of the masks were that covered familiar (and aging) faces last Wednesday. Former President Bill Clinton, who is 74, had a thin, seemingly-too-small cloth mask that kept slipping below his nose. Chief Justice John Roberts, 65, had similar if less extreme nose-coverage problems, and a similarly flimsy mask. Among those sitting close to the lectern, cloth masks — albeit mostly ones that covered noses a lot better than Clinton’s and Roberts’s did — were the norm, with Vice President Kamala Harris’s stepson Cole Emhoff standing out with his white N95 respirator with a big “3M” stamped on the front.