Homemade face masks, coronavirus and CDC: all you need to know


N95 face masks are currently rare.

South China Morning Post / Getty Images

For the latest news and information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Are you still at risk for coronavirus if you wear a homemade facial mask in public? How well can a cloth face cover protect you and what is the right way to wear it? What is the government’s exact recommendation and why are N95 masks generally considered better? You naturally have questions. We have answers.

At the end of last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an updated set of guidelines on wearing face cover in public, including home-made cloth face covers. Revised statement comes as a surge in the United States and new transmission data COVID-19 disease unfolds.

If you are looking for more information on make your own mask at home, we also have resources for you.

Why now recommend homemade non-medical face masks?

For months, the CDC has recommended medical grade face masks for people presumed to be or confirmed to be sick with COVID-19, as well as for medical workers. But the increase in cases in the United States and particularly in hot spots like New York and now New Jersey, has shown that the current measures have not been strong enough to flatten the curve.

There is also new evidence that it can be beneficial to wear a homemade mask in crowded places like the supermarket, compared to the lack of coverage at all. Social distancing and hand washing are always paramount (see below).

The chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, Albert Rizzo, M.D., said in a statement via email on Friday:

Wearing the mask by all individuals can provide some protection against respiratory droplets that cough or sneeze around them. Initial reports show that the virus can live in droplets in the air for up to one to three hours after an infected individual leaves an area. Covering your face will help prevent these droplets from entering the air and infecting others.

Homemade masks can help protect others from you

According to the American Lung Association, one in four people infected with COVID-19 may have mild or no symptoms. Using a cloth face cover when you’re around others can help block large particles that you might eject through involuntary coughing, sneezing, or saliva (such as speaking), which could slow the spread of transmission if you don’t know yourself. re sick.

“These types of masks are not intended to protect the wearer, but to protect against unintentional transmission – in case you are an asymptomatic carrier of the coronavirus,” said the American Lung Association in a blog article about the wear. of homemade masks.

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What the CDC says today about homemade masks

The most important point to remember from the CDC message is that covering your face when you leave the house is a “voluntary public health measure” and should not replace precautions self quarantine at home, social distancing and wash your hands thoroughly.

The CDC is the US authority on protocols and protections against COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

In the words of the CDC, he “recommends wearing cloth face covers in public places where other measures of social distancing are difficult to maintain (for example, grocery stores and pharmacies). mostly in areas of significant community transmission. “(The focus is on the CDC.)

The institute says not to look for masks of medical or surgical quality for yourself and to leave N95 breathing masks health care workers, opting instead for basic cloth or fabric coverings that can be washed and reused. Previously, the agency considered homemade masks as a last resort in hospitals and medical facilities.

Read on to learn more about the CDC’s original position on homemade masks.

The right way to wear a cloth face mask or face mask

The most important thing is to cover your entire nose and mouth, which means that the facial mask should fit under your chin. The coating will be less effective if you remove it from your face when you are in a crowded store, such as talking to someone. For example, it is best to adjust your upholstery before leaving your car, rather than while waiting in line at the supermarket. Read on to find out why the adjustment is so important.

The great debate on the face mask

For weeks, a debate raged over the question of whether homemade facial masks should be used in hospitals and also by individuals in public. It comes at a time when the available stock of certified products N95 breathing masks – essential protective equipment used by struggling health workers Coronavirus pandemic – has reached critical lows.

Read more: How to make a face mask or coating at home

If you have a supply of N95 masks, consider donating them to a health facility or hospital near you. here’s how give hand sanitizer and protective equipment to hospitals in need – and why you should too refrain from making your own hand sanitizer.

In a medical setting, handmade masks are not scientifically proven to be as effective in protecting you from the coronavirus. Why not? The answer comes down to how the N95 masks are made, certified and worn. It doesn’t matter that healthcare centers are forced to take a “better than nothing” approach.

An example of a hand-sewn facial mask pattern.


N95 masks vs other masks: facial adjustment and certification

N95 respiratory masks differ from other types of surgical masks and face masks because they create a seal between the respirator and your face, which helps to filter at least 95% of airborne particles. They can include an exhalation valve to facilitate breathing while wearing them. Coronaviruses can persist in air for up to 30 minutes and be transmitted from person to person by vapor (breath), speaking, coughing, sneezing, saliva and passing over commonly touched objects.

Each N95 mask model from each manufacturer is certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. N95 surgical respiratory masks are subject to secondary approval by the Food and Drug Administration for use in surgery – they better protect practitioners from exposure to substances such as patients’ blood.

In US healthcare facilities, N95 masks must also undergo a mandatory fit test using a protocol defined by OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, before use. This 3M manufacturer video shows some of the main differences between standard surgical masks and N95 masks. Homemade masks are not regulated, although some hospital websites indicate preferred models that they suggest using.

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Handmade face masks: cotton and elastic

The DIY facial mask movement that provides models and instructions for sew masks at home tell you to use materials like multiple layers of cotton, elastic bands and plain thread.

Basically, the designs contain simple pleats with elastic straps to fit your ears. Some are more streamlined to resemble the shape of the N95 masks. Still others have pockets where you can add “filter media” that you can buy elsewhere.

It is the belief of people who make their own masks that the addition of filters will help protect against transmission, especially when it comes to larger particles from coughing and sneezing.

Be aware that there is no solid scientific evidence that the masks will conform enough to the face to form a solid seal, or that the filter material inside will work effectively. Standard surgical masks, for example, are known to leave gaps. This is why the CDC emphasizes other precautions, such as washing your hands and distance yourself from others.


James Martin / CNET

What were the homemade masks used for first (not COVID-19)

Many websites sharing models and instructions for homemade masks have been created as a fashionable way of preventing the wearer from breathing large particles, such as car exhaust, air pollution and pollen during the allergy season. They were not intended to protect you from the acquisition of COVID-19. However, the CDC believes they could help slow the spread of the coronavirus because other types of masks are no longer widely available.

One site, CraftPassion, includes this disclaimer:

Due to recent coronavirus attacks around the world, I have received a lot of requests on how to add a non-woven filter inside the face mask. Warning: this mask is not intended to replace the surgical mask, it is an emergency plan for those who do not have access to the surgical mask on the market. Proper use of a surgical mask remains the best way to prevent infection with the virus.


A video from the manufacturer 3M shows the main differences between the N95 and standard surgical masks.

3M / Screen capture by Jessica Dolcourt / CNET

CDC’s original position on homemade masks

Together with the World Health Organization, the CDC is the authoritative body which sets guidelines for the medical community. The CDC’s position on homemade masks has changed throughout the coronavirus epidemic.

On March 24, recognizing a shortage of N95 masks, a page on the CDC website suggested five alternatives if a health care provider, or HCP, does not have access to an N95 mask.

Here’s what a CDC site had to say about homemade masks then:

In places where face masks are not available, HCP may use homemade masks (for example, a bandana, scarf) to treat patients with COVID-19 last resort [our emphasis]. However, homemade masks are not considered EARbecause their ability to protect HCP is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (which extends to the chin or below) and the sides of the face.

A different page on the CDC website, however, seems to make an exception for conditions where no N95 mask is available, including homemade masks. (NIOSH stands for National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.)

HCP use of masks not approved by NIOSH or homemade masks

In locations where N95 respirators are so limited that standards of care routinely practiced for wearing N95 respirators and respirators of equivalent or higher level of protection are no longer possible and surgical masks are not available, last remedies, it may be necessary for HCP to use masks that have never been evaluated or approved by NIOSH or homemade masks. Consider using these masks to treat patients with COVID-19, tuberculosis, measles, and chickenpox. However, care must be taken when considering this option.

Now, the CDC is calling for all civilians to wear a face covering when they leave the house.

Masks and sterilization

Another difference between homemade masks and factory-made masks from brands like 3M, Kimberly-Clark and Prestige Ameritech is related to sterilization, which is crucial in hospitals. With handmade face masks, there is no guarantee that the mask will be sterile or free from an environment with a coronavirus – however, measures like washing the masks could help combat this.

CDC guidelines have long considered N95 masks contaminated after each single use and recommend discarding them. However, the severe shortage of N95 masks has prompted many hospitals to take extreme measures to protect doctors and nurses, such as trying to decontaminate the masks between uses. A Nebraska medical center, for example, is experimenting with ultraviolet light treatments to sterilize N95 masks.

In a game-changing move, the FDA used its emergency powers on March 29 to approve the use of a new mask sterilization technique by an Ohio-based non-profit organization called Battelle. The nonprofit has started shipping its machines, capable of sterilizing up to 80,000 N95 masks per day, to New York, Boston, Seattle and Washington, DC. The machines use “hydrogen peroxide in the vapor phase” to disinfect the masks, allowing them to be reused up to 20 times.

Cloth or cloth masks for household use can be sterilized by washing them in the washing machine.

The danger: not knowing the limits

It should be emphasized again that sewing your own face mask cannot prevent you from acquiring a coronavirus in a high-risk situation, such as staying in crowded places or continuing to meet friends or family who do not live not already with you.

Since coronavirus can be transmitted by someone who does not have any symptoms but who actually harbors the virus, it is essential for the health and well-being of people over the age of 65 and those with underlying illnesses. Knowing what proven measures will help keep everyone safe – quarantine, with social distancing and hand washing being the most crucial, experts say.

For more information, here Eight Common Myths About Coronavirus Health, How? ‘Or’ What disinfect your home and car, and answers to all your questions about coronavirus and COVID-19.


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