Posted on Apr 06, 2020, 4 p.m.
After weeks of saying that face masks aren’t needed for the general public, the CDC as well as others are now recommending that the general public wear face masks, in fact the Surgeon General has even offered instructions on how to make some at home given that supplies are long sold out and near impossible to find. ( links to videos at bottom of article)
“CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
Some suggest that using blue shop towels as insert filters to make DIY face masks can improve filtering particles 2-3 times better than cotton after three clothing designers tested dozens of fabrics. The masks that are currently circulating the internet really are not geared towards professional, industrial production, but this is a case of something being better than nothing. Even the CDC has told healthcare workers unable to obtain proper PPE to use a bandanna or a scarf as a last resort.
This recommendation to medical professionals may be alarming as there is no evidence of homemade masks protecting against the virus. "While wearing a scarf or bandana might help prevent a sick person from transmitting coronavirus infection to others by trapping respiratory droplets, it is unsafe for healthcare workers to rely on scarves and bandanas to protect themselves against infection by their patients," says Celine Gounder, an epidemiologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases at New York University.
In the recommendation even the CDC acknowledges that homemade PPE for the face still is not considered to be PPE noting that "their capability to protect [healthcare professionals] is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option,” and adds that ideally a full face shield should be used in combination with homemade masks.
The National Nurses United professional association and union pushed back against the loosening of PPE standards against the CDC suggesting that surgical masks could be worn instead of the more specialized N95 masks: "If nurses and health care workers aren't protected, that means patients and the public are not protected," NNU executive director Bonnie Castillo said in a press release. "This is a major public health crisis of unknown proportions. Now is not the time to be weakening our standards and protections, or cutting corners. Now is the time we should be stepping up our efforts."
Amid the shortages health organizations are partnering with private companies and donors to help make more crucial medical equipment available. Grounder suggests that such collaboration may be critical to bridging gaps in needed supplies during this trying time. "We are at war against the coronavirus," she said. "In prior wars, we asked families to donate their wedding rings, jewelry, and other items to the war effort. We should be pleading with the public and corporations who are hoarding respirator masks to donate their N95 masks to those serving on the frontlines of this war."
For most homemade face masks are the only option. It has been suggested that by adding two blue shop towels to a face mask design that is tighter fitting homemade masks could block up to 95% of the particles tested, while cotton masks only blocked 20-60%. These masks are not meant to replace N95 masks, but as an alternative when proper PPE is not available.
Chloe Schempf, Lindsay Medoff and Heather Pavlu of Suay Sew Shop have dusted off their sewing machine and are making about 200,000 masks or as many as they can before they run out of supplies of these masks with blue shop towels they suggest are more effective to give to those people who are working in the front lines risking it all, as well as raising money to get them properly tested to see if their design can be validated as a safer solution to cotton during the mask shortage.
Not to contradict CDC recommendations for a cloth masks but, "We spent a few days researching and brainstorming any material that could filter: coffee filters, batting, window shades, Swiffer, interfacing, etc., all the way to more technical materials that are available to specialized industrial sectors like aviation, oil refinery, medical fields," Schempf said.
They tested many materials to find materials that breath as easily as cotton but filtered better. HEPA bags for instance filter great but are too suffocating to wear(and they contain fiberglass). Inserting two stretchy blue shop towels made from polyester hydro knit into an ordinary cotton mask was found to bring the filtration capacity up to 93% of particles as small as 0.3 microns which is the smallest size their machines can test for; cotton masks alone filtered up to 60% in their best test, according to Schempf. They also suggest that the masks held the 95% filtration for 3 machine washes.
"This is by community, for community," Medoff said. "This is ordinary people taking their power back."
Health experts still say that masks such as these are not likely to protect a healthy person from getting the virus, but if those that are infected with the virus and are not aware of it happen to be wearing a homemade mask while following social distancing it could help to minimize the spread.
The Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, has even released a video showing people how to make their own cloth face covering in a few easy steps using an old T-shirt and rubber bands after the CDC announcement. Amid the shortage besides bandannas, scarves, towels, and bedding, people can make their own using items from around the house, he explains in the recently released video.
“Remember this is all about me protecting you and you protecting me. And if people voluntarily choose to wear a face covering they're wearing it to protect their neighbors from getting coronavirus because they could have asymptomatic spread,” said Dr. Adams.
Here videos showing how to make a face mask, please note these are not to replace proper protective equipment, rather when nothing else is available:
Materials provided by:
Content may be edited for style and length.
This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement