Editor's note: The headline for this piece used to read: "VERIFY: CDC, WHO do not recommend homemade masks."
We've changed the headline to reflect the fact that the CDC and WHO have both broadened their stances on cloth masks.
On April 3rd, WHO Executive Director of Health Emergencies, Dr. Michael Ryan said, "we can certainly see circumstances in which the use of masks, but home-made or cloth masks, at community level may help in an overall, comprehensive response to this disease."
Additionally, the CDC published a new page on April 3rd regarding the use of homemade masks.
"We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms," it reads. "In light of this new evidence, 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."
These statements represent a change from previous stances on masks by the WHO And CDC. The article below reflects the previous stances as they were on March 24th.
Viewer Ann P. sent us a question about making protective masks.
She had seen instructions online and wanted to know if they worked.
Ann is definitely not alone. There are a lot of articles about this right now.
Can you make your own masks? Do they work? And when should you be wearing one?
According to the CDC and WHO, masks are only to be used when caring for someone who is sick or if you are sick.
Most homemade masks are made out of forms of cloth. While they may be better than nothing in a crisis situation, the CDC and WHO do not recommend their use.
WHAT WE FOUND
According to the WHO, a person should only wear a mask when experiencing COVID-19 symptoms (especially coughing) or looking after someone who is sick with the virus.
The CDC suggests the use of a homemade mask like a bandanna or a scarf as a last resource when medical masks are not available, but also notes that homemade masks are not PPE (personal protective equipment). This is because their capability to protect healthcare personnel is unknown. If this option is considered, the homemade mask should be combined with a face shield that covers the entire front and sides of the face.
The WHO has a guide on mask use and management and specifically says that cloth (cotton, gauze, etc.) are not recommended under any circumstances.
Homemade masks should only be used as a last resource, and they’re not recommended by health authorities.
WHY PEOPLE ARE MAKING THEM ANYWAY
Despite the guidance from the CDC and WHO, multiple hospitals have said they will accept homemade masks. While the masks are intended to be a "last resource," there are many who believe they should be prepared for that circumstance.
A group of students at UC Berkely School Of Health has compiled a list of hospitals that they've contacted and who have said they will take donated masks, including homemade ones. So far, they have found more than 100 facilities across 24 states.
If you do decide to make masks at home, remember that they're meant to be used only when nothing else is available.
There are some studies on their efficacy, but their results are a bit convoluted.
A 2013 Cambridge University study found that homemade masks made from cotton t-shirts "Reduced the number of microorganisms expelled by volunteers, although the surgical mask was 3 times more effective."
That same study found that "a homemade mask should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission."
A 2015 study in Medical Journal BMJ found that cloth masks had "highest" infection rates of tested materials.
"The physical properties of a cloth mask, reuse, the frequency and effectiveness of cleaning, and increased moisture retention, may potentially increase the infection risk for HCWs. (Health Care Workers)," It reads.
If you're still wondering how to make a mask, there are a number of patterns available online.
Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, Indiana posted a tutorial video and has a site with instructions and patterns available.
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