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What You Need to Know About Masks for COVID-19

The Internet is an excellent source of vital information, but it’s also a breeding ground for dangerous misinformation — especially in times of crisis like this COVID-19 pandemic. Most of us know that so-called “social distancing” is the best way to reduce our chances of catching the virus, but it’s impossible to completely cut yourself off from society overnight. Sooner or later, you’ll need to go out to buy groceries, pick up a prescription, drop off a package at the post office, or perform some similarly-mundane activity. When you do go out, you probably also know that wearing a mask or respirator is a good way to reduce your likelihood of getting sick. But beyond that commonly-accepted fact, we’ve seen a lot of confusion circulating about the acceptable types and characteristics of masks for COVID-19, including the efficacy of DIY and improvised options.

An article published yesterday on NoOneComing.com provides an extremely in-depth, research-backed look at the potential effectiveness of various mask types, as well as critical considerations for selecting an improvised mask when purpose-built N95 masks are not available. Here’s a quick excerpt, shared with permission from the author:

There is no good substitute for proven N95 (or better) face-piece respirators. All of the “solutions” proposed to combat this crisis are the lesser of multiple evils, but are absolutely not an ideal and shouldn’t be anyone’s first choice where a choice exists. This has to be absolutely understood, but it doesn’t change the circumstance we find ourselves in where these homemade (or industry made) fabric mask alternatives are the best of bad choices, the only thing left.

However, some mask designs are worse than others. There are many DIY patterns being offered right now by sewing blogs, healthcare organizations, employers, etc., and there are many homemade and small business made masks being offered for sale right now, very suddenly. What most of these have in common is that they aren’t going to protect you. Many of them are made with single layers of material, or are made with the wrong kinds of material. Many of them are poor designs which do not create a tight seal against the face, but instead leave gaps around the nose, on the cheeks, or around the chin. While folks should be applauded for trying to help, many of these DIY’ers and small businesses aren’t helping – They’re selling false confidence. While these simplest, thinnest, worst fitting of masks might help an infected person from spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus, even that is in doubt when thin single layers, and large gaps around the side, can allowed expelled particles to escape. If you endeavor to make your own mask, or you go to purchase already made masks from someone, please be aware of these kind of shortcomings, and of the intended use, and make appropriate selections.

Based on the available data, these are our internal recommendations for DIY face-pieces with at least some filtration capability:

  • Find or make masks (plural) that are made of multiple layers of recommended fabrics, ideally sterilization wrap (at least two layers). Or, find/make masks (plural) that can use filter inserts and stock up on those inserts either by purchasing or making them (from sterilization wrap or HEPA bags)
  • Ensure that the masks are a contouring design, which has dual straps or ties, and a flexible (moldable) nose-piece, to get the closest fit possible
  • Wear the mask properly, at all times
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it
  • Take precautions handling the mask, especially when doffing it after wear, to avoid touching the outside. Doff the mask by handling only the elastics or ties
  • Wash your hands before removing your mask
  • Rotate masks throughout extended periods of wear (this is why multiple masks is recommended) to prevent saturation of any one. Especially with woven fabrics, a wet mask is not a filtering mask. Two – four hours seems to be the limit for woven fabrics, before materials are saturated. Remove the worn, contaminated, mask safely, and then throw away any filter insert (if they aren’t being reused), and move the mask to a closed container to be washed/deconed
  • Wash your hands after doffing and storing a used mask, and before donning a clean mask
  • Store clean masks in a container which provides a barrier against transmission. Store dirty masks in a separate container which also provides a barrier

We highly recommend taking the time to sit down and read the entire article, since it’s packed with useful data and (most importantly) actionable steps you can take to increase your family’s likelihood of avoiding COVID-19. Some of the points, such as safe mask storage and DIY decontamination methods, are topics we haven’t seen thoroughly addressed elsewhere. Even if you have the best mask or respirator money can buy, it’s no good to you if you don’t wear, handle, or maintain it properly.

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