With more than 245,000 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, already in the U.S., health experts are reconsidering their recommendation on the use of face masks by people who show no symptoms. Already, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has advised residents to cover their faces before heading outside.
But N95 masks, which are tighter-fitting than surgical masks and offer the most protection from viruses similar to coronavirus, are in short supply, even for health-care workers. Even flimsier disposable masks can be hard to find.
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Here’s what you need to know about DIY masks:
• These masks aren’t going to fully protect you from coronavirus. You should still be practicing social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from others in public and frequently washing your hands for 20 seconds each time.
Don’t “get an artificial sense of protection”, Deborah Birx, a public-health expert on the White House’s coronavirus response team, said Thursday. “Remember, your eyes are not in the mask, so if you’re touching things and then touching your eyes, you’re exposing yourself in the same way.”
• A DIY mask, while not as effective as an N95 mask, still offers some protection from respiratory droplets that spread the virus.
• Fabric that is 100% cotton is comparable to surgical masks in effectiveness.
• If you can’t make your own mask, the New York City Department suggests covering your mouth and nose with a scarf or bandanna.
While the internet is full of suggestions on how to make your own mask (hey, use a coffee filter! A vacuum cleaner bag!), Christian Schrock, an infectious disease doctor based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, says this version simulates a surgical mask and doesn’t require sewing skills or glue.
“All masks are not created equally,” Schrock told MarketWatch. “There are 100’s of DIY designs out there that do help somewhat to reduce the spread of the virus from the person who is not ill but still highly contagious.”
“However this mask since it is comparable to some surgical masks offers reasonable protection for the wearer of the mask. It’s not an N95 or better and is not 100% protective,” he added.
Here’s what you need to make that mask in 10 minutes — no sewing skills (or even a stapler) needed:
• Clean flat bed sheet with side hems (100% cotton, tight weave)
• Measuring tape (or 8.5’“ x 11” piece of paper to approximate)
• Large paper clip (or other malleable metal strip like floral wire or pipe cleaner) to make the nose pinch.
• Safety pins (or stapler)
Your finished mask should look like this:
You can reuse the mask. Place it in boiling water for five minutes. After you turn off the heat, “carefully remove the mask with tongs and place it on a clean paper towel.” Schrock said in his video.