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Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have seen mixed information on whether to wear a mask, the effectiveness of masks, and about the growing shortages of masks for health care workers. The primary way this virus spreads is through person-to-person interactions, and using masks can help mitigate the transmission but it is important to understand the proper use of the different masks (Q&A on Coronaviruses). As of April 3, the CDC recommends that everyone wear homemade masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, they are asking people to save the medical-grade masks for frontline health care workers. In this article, we will share the differences between medical masks and homemade masks and when it is appropriate to wear these masks.
According to the CDC, the only mask that prevents you from inhaling droplets containing COVID-19 are N95 masks, which filter 95% of airborne particles (Reyes, 2020). These are the masks typically used in medical settings and surgery. However, the CDC has encouraged healthy people to refrain from buying and using these medical-grade masks since hospitals and health care workers are currently facing shortages of these masks and other personal protective equipment (Goodnough & Sheikh, 2020).
At the start of the outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC initially indicated that only individuals who are sick or showing symptoms should wear a mask. This also includes healthy people who are caring for a COVID-19 patient. On April 3, the CDC began recommending individuals wear homemade masks or other face covers when leaving the home to perform essential tasks such as grocery shopping. On April 1, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles announced a similar order, recommending that individuals should wear homemade, non-medical face covers which can include a bandana or scarf. This announcement does not lessen the need for physical distancing, but is intended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in situations when you need to go out. The best ways to avoid contracting COVID-19 are to stay at home, avoid public places, and practice physical distancing.
Face coverings are an added layer of protection and should remind people of how the virus spreads. While masks may remind you not to touch your face, they do not prevent the transmission of COVID-19 alone. Prevention measures such as frequent hand washing and disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces will work in conjunction to these face coverings to protect yourself and others. Individuals nationwide have started making their own face masks to give to friends, family, neighbors, and even local grocery store workers. If you are interested in making homemade face masks, here is some more information:
Goodnough, A., & Sheikh, K. (2020). C.D.C. Weighs Advising Everyone to Wear a Mask. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/31/health/cdc-masks-coronavirus.html
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti urges residents to wear masks to slow down coronavirus spread. (2020). Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2020/04/01/los-angeles-mayor-urges-residents-to-wear-masks-to-stem-coronavirus-spread/
Meredith, S. (2020). In a U-turn, US surgeon general ask CDC to see if face masks can prevent coronavirus spread after all. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/02/coronavirus-us-surgeon-general-asks-cdc-to-see-if-face-masks-are-effective.html
Q&A on Coronavirus (COVID-19). (2020). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
Reyes, L. (2020). People are making DIY masks to fight coronavirus. But do they actually work? Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/03/23/homemade-coronavirus-masks-do-they-actually-block-spread/2899622001/
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