Monthly Map of Deaths per 10,000. Cartographer Bea Malsky
Monthly Map of Deaths per 10,000. Cartographer Bea Malsky

Masks: why they work

How to wear a mask

  1. Wash your hands before and after handling the mask.
  2. Try to touch only the ear bands or ties on your mask when putting it on and taking it off.
  3. Make sure the mask fits as snugly as possible over your nose, mouth, and chin.
  4. Make sure you can breathe and talk comfortably in your mask.

Johns Hopkins Infographic

Mask Bar Graph Illustration By Grae Rosa
Based on a study that examined the effectiveness of certain materials used in mask construction, mask quality ranks as such

Face coverings ranked

  1. Fitted N95 (99.9 percent filtration efficiency*)
  2. Fitted Surgical Mask (99.6 percent)
  3. Cotton (2 layers, 600 thread count) (99.5 percent)
  4. Cotton/Silk hybrid with no gaps (98.5 percent
  5. Cotton (1 layer, 600 thread count) (98.4 percent)
  6. Silk (4 layers) (88%)
  7. T-shirt Cotton (2 layers) (49%)
  8. Scarf/Bandana (14%)
  9. No Mask
  • *based on filtration percentages for particles >300 nm in size. Respiratory droplets are around 5000 nm in size; it is still unclear if COVID-19 can also disperse through aerosols (see COVID: Airborne or Droplet? below), which are much smaller in size and for which filtration efficiencies are slightly lower. 
  • Vacuum bags and furnace filters have also been examined as possible materials for homemade masks, but these have the possibility of containing small glass particles that are dangerous if inhaled.


Important mask facts


6ft an Illustration By Grae Rosa

COVID: Airborne or Droplet?

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Common COVID Myths Busted

Myth 1: If you test positive for COVID-19, you will have it for life.

It is possible to recover from the disease, and many do. The Chicago Department of Public Health recommends that individuals who test positive seek medical care and treat their symptoms as soon as they can. 

Myth 2: If you have recovered from COVID-19, you are now immune and don’t have to worry about getting re-infected.

According to the CDC, there is a lot we don’t yet know about COVID-19 immunity. Individuals who are infected with other coronaviruses usually do not get re-infected in the first few months after they recover, but it is unclear if patients with COVID-19 will experience this level of immunity. There have been reports of a few cases of apparent re-infection, but more information is needed. 

Illustration By Thumy Phan

Myth 3: 5G technology is linked to COVID-19.

According to the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the WHO, 5G technology does not spread COVID-19. The novel coronavirus cannot spread on radio waves or mobile networks. 

Myth 4: You can use disinfectant lamps and wands to kill COVID-19.

Possibly some lamps, but only on surfaces and objects (according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine). The WHO recommends not using UV-C disinfectant lamps and wands to disinfect any part of your body because UV radiation can damage the eyes and skin.

Myth 5: COVID-19 can spread through wastewater.

Illustration By Thumy Phan

According to the CDC, the virus that causes COVID-19 has been detected in untreated wastewater, but researchers do not know if it can cause disease through that route of exposure. So far, there has been no evidence that this has occurred, and the risk of transmission through sewage systems is thought to be low. According to CDPH, the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.

Myth 6: People with certain blood types are more prone to getting infected with COVID-19.

Illustration By Thumy Phan

One study from Harvard Medical School found that individuals who exhibited symptoms who had B or AB blood types and were Rh positive were more likely to test positive for COVID-19, while those with blood type O were less likely to test positive. The researchers also found that patient blood type had no relationship to the severity of COVID-19. However, this is just one study, and more research is needed to understand what is driving these differences. 

Myth 7: The best way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid all meat products and go vegan. 

Illustration By Thumy Phan

There are several good reasons to go vegan, but thinking that it will prevent COVID-19 infection is not one of them. According to the CDC, there is no evidence that you can get infected by eating food. The main way coronaviruses are thought to spread is person-to-person through respiratory droplets when someone coughs, sneezes, or talks. Before preparing or eating anything, it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds for general food safety.


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Long-Term Effects

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Reopening Chicago

  • On May 17, Mayor Lightfoot announced her reopening Chicago plan that enforces and eases restrictions on businesses and citizens depending on trends in COVID-19 case numbers, case positivity (the percentage of positive COVID-19 test results) hospitalizations, deaths, and testing capacity. Currently Chicago is in phase IV, but reinstated some restrictions, such as reducing the number of people allowed in bars and restaurants, in response to elevated daily case numbers on July 24.
    • Phase I: Strict Stay at Home: shelter in place, only essential businesses open
    • Phase II: Stay at Home: only go outside as needed, wear masks in public
    • Phase III: Some non-essential businesses can open if they meet standards; social gatherings of ten or fewer people allowed.
    • Phase IV: All businesses can open as long as they meet safeguards; socially gathering allowed up to fifty people indoors, but continue to wear face masks and practice social distancing.
    • Phase V: Vaccine is available, non-vulnerable individuals can return to work
  • To move to the next phase, Chicago requires a declining rate of new citywide cases over twenty-eight days and/or fewer than 200 new cases per day over fourteen days, positivity rate below five percent, and the capability of testing at least 4,500 people daily. However, since the city is currently in phase IV, it would also require a vaccine to be available to move to phase V.
  • If Chicago fails at any of the above criteria, it will reinstate restrictions, or move back to the previous phase.
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  • At this time, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, and there is too much uncertainty to predict when one might become available.
  • Vaccine development happens in three clinical phases, typically over the course of several years.
      1. Phase 1: Small groups of people receive the trial vaccine to test things such as safety and appropriate dosage (CDC)
      2. Phase 2: The clinical study expands—people who have characteristics (e.g., age and physical health) similar to those for whom the new vaccine is intended receive the trial vaccine
      3. Phase 3:  The clinical study scales up—hundreds or thousands of people receive the vaccine to test if it is safe and effective (i.e., does the vaccine reduce the risk of disease for vaccinated people compared to unvaccinated people?) 
      4. The Food and Drug Administration licenses a vaccine only if it is found to be both safe and effective, and if its benefits are found to outweigh any risks. Even after a vaccine has been approved, it continues to undergo testing.
  • There are currently more than twenty-five COVID-19 vaccine candidates undergoing human trials 
  • In the Chicago region, two universities have launched initiatives to help test potential vaccines.
    • In June, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) called for volunteers for a Phase III clinical trial to test an RNA-based vaccine developed by Moderna, a biotech company, as part of a nationwide study. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is administering the trial. Anyone interested in volunteering to participate in a vaccine trial can register at this website: The research team is interested in recruiting a diverse group of participants, including first responders and residents in predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhoods.
    • On July 27, Northwestern Medicine announced its COVID Prevention Trials Registry. The registry will connect participants, based on their health profile, to different studies for prevention of the disease. Northwestern University is looking to recruit individuals who are eighteen or older and who live or work in places that put them at a high risk of exposure to COVID-19, such as health care workers, public transportation employees, and individuals living in congregate settings. The research team is also looking for participants from communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, especially the elderly, Black and Latinx residents, and individuals with underlying health conditions. A Phase III clinical vaccine trial is expected to launch at Northwestern this month. Researchers will test two doses of a vaccine developed by the biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford: one dose to start, followed by another dose a month later. Anyone interested in learning more about or participating in the study can email or call (312) 695-5012. 
  • Dr. Karen Krueger is the principal investigator for Northwestern’s COVID-19 registry. In an email, Krueger said it is difficult to predict when a vaccine might be ready, but she is hopeful that one will be ready by 2021. 
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Chicago COVID Timeline 

*Number of deaths from COVID-19 sourced from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, number of tests and cases from the Chicago Department of Public Health. Positivity was measured by looking at the number of tests completed and number of positive test results in the previous two-week period.

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Elora Apantaku is a medical doctor and writer. She last wrote about Chicago’s COVID-19 contact tracing plans. Charmaine Runes is a graduate student at the University of Chicago’s Computational Analysis and Public Policy program. She last wrote about the 1995 Chicago heat wave.


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