2290: Homemade Masks

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Homemade Masks
I'm going to change the sign so the pole is horizontal and the sign is mounted on the front like a plunger, so I can carry it around like a lance to gently push people back if they try to approach.
Title text: I'm going to change the sign so the pole is horizontal and the sign is mounted on the front like a plunger, so I can carry it around like a lance to gently push people back if they try to approach.


This comic is the 15th comic in a row (not counting the April Fools' comic) in a series of comics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this comic, Cueball wonders if Megan's homemade mask will be of any use, because he has seen many different points of view and is unsure which one is correct. It is generally agreed that homemade masks will not block particles (including droplets which carry viruses) as effectively as officially-tested N95-class masks or surgical masks, and possibly confer no benefit at all; however, wearing a homemade mask may reduce contagiousness if the wearer is infected, by blocking droplets from being expelled. It may also make the wearer less likely to touch their face (which may be a vector for catching COVID-19 from contaminated surfaces). On the other hand, there are concerns that it may confer a false sense of security, leading to unsafe behaviors, and that the warm, moist environment produced by the wearer's breath may also harbor incoming viruses, which may later infect the wearer if the mask is not washed frequently.

Megan replies that she originally carried a sign warning people to keep their distance, but people needed to get close to her to read it, making it counterproductive. The implication is that Megan's primary purpose in wearing the mask is to signal to other people that's she's concerned about spreading COVID-19, and remind them to keep their distance. Whether or not the mask has any direct benefits in blocking virus transmission, Megan apparently feels that the social impact of seeing someone in a face mask is likely to change behaviors, making transmission less likely.

The title text indicates an alternate method, where Megan could change the sign into a device for pushing people back in order to maintain distance. Holding the sign out in front of her (instead of over her head) would also let people get close to the sign to read it, without getting in her face.


[Cueball stands at a distance from Megan, who is wearing a face mask]
Cueball: Homemade mask, huh? You think they help?
Cueball: I've read so many conflicting things.
[Flashback to when Megan was not wearing a mask but carrying a large sign, with Cueball and Ponytail approaching her from both sides. It is not possible to read what is on the sign. Masked Megan is pictured in an inset panel.]
Megan (narrating): Well, what I was doing before was carrying around a big sign that said "There's a pandemic so please give me space because I don't want to get sick or make anyone else sick!"
[Same as first panel]
Megan: The problem was, I had to write small to fit, so people kept walking closer to read it.
Cueball: Oops.
Megan: Yeah, the mask gets it across better.


  • Cueball has previously encountered signs that are so interesting that they lead people into peril in 356: Nerd Sniping, although in that comic strip, Black Hat was specifically designing his signs with the intent to cause harm.

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A giant ring or hoop would work, or even one of those old ballgowns. -- 10:25, 7 April 2020 (UTC)

I saw a video of a guy in Italy doing that. 12:20, 7 April 2020 (UTC)
I think I read somewhere, that eight horses might do the trick as well. Bischoff (talk) 07:04, 8 April 2020 (UTC)

Was this a rare Tuesday comic? or was this just released very late on Monday (4/6)? 19:14, 7 April 2020 (UTC)

Fixed, according to xkcd.com/archive, this is a Monday comic. 19:31, 7 April 2020 (UTC)

Interestingly, the lance thing is pretty much exactly how the BBC recommends we do it here in the UK.

I think, that if more people started carrying around 6 foot long poo sticks, that social distancing would be better observed. These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 04:03, 12 April 2020 (UTC)

I don't know why moisture and warmth would harbor viruses particularly well? Fungi and bacteria like warm and humid but both they and warmth and possibly humidity break down viruses. I think virus last longer when it is colder and drier, unless they are on a receptive host and can get to work so to speak. The virus is small enough to pass through most light masks, but the mask can catch small droplets and is probably better than coughing and sneezing on your hand or elbow or whatever. 22:19, 14 April 2020 (UTC)