Protect yourself – and others – even if you can’t purchase a medical mask.
The outbreak of COVID-19 around the world has led to a critical shortage in medical/surgical masks and other vital supplies. And, despite some professionals stating the average person does not need to wear a mask in public, a growing number of medical professionals says otherwise. Based on the best data from the World Health Organization we strongly recommend that everyone wear a mask when in public, enclosed spaces (such as pharmacies, grocery stores, etc.).
Due to lack of professional supplies in markets across the globe, many are feeling concerned about not having masks. But, it’s actually easy to create your own masks for protection. Studies indicate homemade masks are only about 1/3 as effective medical masks; however, most experts agree that it is better than no protection. And, some fabrics actually come very close to the efficacy of surgical masks; many have been analyzed and compared by scientists and data show the best materials to use are vacuum cleaner bags, or HEPA filters of any kind; both are 86% effective. We, at This American Quarantine however, are NOT recommending the use of any HEPA filters, as they are commonly made from glass micro-fibers which can damage healthy lungs and potentially make a normally healthy person more susceptible to COVID-19 and other respiratory ailments. If you do choose to add a HEPA filter into your homemade mask, please make sure you do not cut the filter fabric. Use only intact sheets, or folded bags (any cut or tear into the fabric may release more glass micro-particles into the air you are breathing).
In a close second place would be over-the-counter surgical dressings – not gauze, which will allow to many virus particles to pass through, but a sterile, absorbent surgical dressing; they can usually be found in pharmacies next to the first aid supplies, normally in a section with other hospital-grade products. If you cannot obtain these, then the ordinary dish towel (tea towels, abroad) are 73% effective, and cotton blend t-shirts are 75% effective. (Note: doubling the layer increases the effectiveness by almost 14% for dish towels. It only raises the effectiveness of cotton blend fabrics by about 1-2%.)
The simplest, easiest way to create your own mask is from a large (5″ x 9″ or larger, if you can find) surgical dressing. Take two rubber bands, hair ties or elastic if you have it and staple them to the sides. These would be the least effective in comparison, but they will work in a pinch. (Nurses in Italy and China were forced to resort to making these during their peaks of the CoronaVirus outbreak.)
The most effective, but more time and skill consuming, would be making your own mask from one of the fabrics mentioned above. Here’s how:
- Cut the fabric into two 12″ x 6″ pieces (or, 11″ x 5″ for smaller faces)
- Sew (either with a machine or by hand) the pieces together and then stitch the bottom edge closed
- Fold over one side edge and, using an elastic/rubber band or hair tie, start sewing the fabric so the band is enclosed inside the seam
- Once you’ve started it, pull the elastic taut and sew down the rest of the fold
- Repeat this step on the other side of the material
- Make sure to backstitch (sew over multiple times) at the beginning and end of each seam, as this is where the elastic will be pulling
Special thanks to Annie Cook, an expert quilter in Los Angeles who shared her easy pattern with us. For more, check out the feature in Business Insider.
Additional security can be added to the function of your homemade mask by placing a HEPA filter or surgical dressing inside the fabric. Further recommendations about homemade masks from the CDC can be found here.
For more ways to make masks and for detailed (and graphic) analysis of the fabric comparisons, go here.
A quick Google search will reveal dozens of new tutorials and videos from artisans and crafters, if you’d like to make more complicated or decorative masks. Also, if you do sew well, please consider making masks for your neighbors, friends and colleagues. Joann’s Fabrics is even offering free fabric and elastic for people who sew and would like to make them for others; they even offer curbside delivery at some locations, so call your local store.
This article was edited from its original posting to highlight the potential hazards of using HEPA filters in masks. We have also linked to a comprehensive blog listing of multiple mask and filter designs that have been created and are being used and studied for effectiveness from the scientists at Knowm.
~ By, Staff