What you need to know about homemade face masks: Do they work? Are hospitals using them?
While fabric masks aren’t as effective as an N95 mask or disposable surgical masks, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said in a news conference on Tuesday that they may be “better than nothing.”
But she did say that they’re not suitable for all health-care workers. “For personnel that are directly caring for patients with COVID-19, those are not the right masks to use,” Levine said.
Ashish K. Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said the recommendation from CDC that providers use bandanas in a pinch has been met with “derision” in the medical community. “There’s no evidence that bandanas protect doctors in the context of a potentially lethal droplet,” Jha said. “I think in general, we’ve got to protect our doctors” with medical-grade protection.
Even the CDC acknowledged that homemade masks are not considered personal protective equipment because their efficacy is unknown.
In her news conference on Tuesday, Levine said homemade masks shouldn’t lull us into a sense of safety. “They’re not super effective in protecting people. I think it’s really important that people might not become complacent, that they have a homemade mask on. We want people to stay home.”
“Depending on what material they are made of, they can approach the effectiveness of disposable surgical masks,” Fleece said. “[But] if you are not using the right material and practicing really good hygiene, these efforts have the potential to make things worse by providing a false sense of security.”
And, in addition to not filtering particles as well as official gear, masks may actually carry additional risk, especially if we’re reusing them. A 2015 study published in the medical journal BMJ Open also cautions against the use of cloth masks, noting that “moisture retention, reuse of cloth masks, and poor filtration may result in increased risk of infection.”
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