Homemade masks are a hot topic as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Fab UK features writer, Sue Smart, looks at why a growing body of experts says we must wear them.
Homemade masks can capture up to 95% of the infectious droplets which spread the COVID-19 virus. If most people wear masks in public and continue to practice social distancing and hand washing, experts say the transmission rate of this devastating virus will be significantly reduced, saving vast numbers of lives.
The face mask debate has focussed on how effective or ineffective a homemade mask is in terms of preventing the wearer from being infected. Any protection is certainly better than no protection – but in this instance, the greatest purpose of a homemade mask is to prevent the wearer from spreading the virus to other people.
We all know COVID-19 is spread by infectious droplets sprayed from the mouth or nose of a person who has the virus, and whenever that infected person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes, those droplets become temporarily airborne. While airborne, they can be breathed in by other people or land on nearby surfaces, including eyes, and contaminate them. When someone touches the contaminated surface then touches his or her face, or breathes in those droplets, that person can become infected, and so the virus spreads.
Homemade masks can dramatically reduce the spread of COVID-19
There is mounting evidence to show homemade masks can be highly effective in capturing and containing those droplets, which dramatically reduces the spread of COVID-19. Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences at Oxford University, Trisha Greenhalgh, said homemade masks can capture 60 to 95% of the wearer’s droplets, depending on the material used. For example, a close-fitting homemade mask with a waterproof lining can stop 95% of the droplets escaping; however Professor Greenhalgh said the filtration efficiency goes down if the mask is wet, so it must be changed regularly.
Based on what we know so far, it makes very good sense for everyone to wear a homemade mask and this is why:
9 reasons why homemade masks can help free us from lockdown
1. Up to 95% of infectious droplets sprayed from the mouth and nose of a person with the virus can be captured and contained within that person’s homemade mask
- If these infectious droplets are not contained, they can be inhaled or land unseen and contaminate surfaces such as counters; food; household packaging; door handles; money; card machines; hand rails; elevator buttons; parking meters; shopping trolleys; conveyor belts; and potentially every other surface within the vicinity of the infected person.
2. Lives will be saved as transmission rates of the virus will be significantly reduced if 60 to 95% of infectious droplets are captured and contained within the homemade mask
3. People who look healthy and have no symptoms whatsoever can spread the virus
- Latest studies show 40 to 80 percent of people with COVID-19 were infected by people who did not know they carried the virus (they are asymptomatic or presymptomatic)
- It is not known how long COVID-19 remains contagious, once symptoms have gone
- As no one knows for certain who is carrying the virus, the only solution is for everyone to wear homemade masks in public
4. Mathematical modelling shows if the majority of people wear a homemade mask in public (even masks that are only 60% effective), the transmission rate of COVID-19 can be stopped entirely
- A recent report from China shows a large proportion of transmission occurs indoors, such as in homes, churches, hospitals, restaurants, gyms and on public transport, where there is close contact
- Crowded, confined environments where people do not wear masks and cannot maintain social distancing are a concern
5. Fewer COVID-19 droplets escaping an infectious person with a homemade mask means a lower viral load is released
6. Droplets containing COVID-19 can remain suspended in the air for up to three hours, creating an invisible cloud of infectious particles
- If the infected person wears a homemade mask then 60 to 95% of those droplets do not become airborne
- The amount of COVID-19 droplets a non-infected wearer of a homemade mask may breathe in is significantly reduced (and wearing glasses or sunglasses will offer some protection to the eyes)
7. Infectious COVID-19 droplets can travel up to six metres (far more than the two-metre social distancing space) when coughed or sneezed, and can live for up to 72 hours on various surfaces
- People touch their faces on average 23 times an hour, far more times than hands are washed – so if the mouth or nose area is touched by a contaminated hand, the mask will be contaminated instead of the person
8. Being tested negative for COVID-19 is no guarantee that person is safe
- If people have been tested and told they do not carry the virus, all that proves is they were not infectious at the time of testing
- There is no guarantee they are safe beyond the time of the test as they may have later encountered infected people and contracted the virus (possibly without any symptoms)
- Testing is an important part of the new “test, track and trace” strategy
9. The public can make their own masks so healthcare professionals and other frontline workers will not have to compete for personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Homemade masks are highly-effective, very low cost and there is an army of people across the country already making them, or willing to start (many patterns can be downloaded from the internet)
As the Masks4All campaign says: “My mask protects you, your mask protects me”, and the homemade masks are also a constant reminder to remain vigilant. It must be stressed that regular hand washing, social distancing, self-isolation (where required), testing, contact tracing and wearing homemade masks are ALL vital tools and very necessary if we are to beat this pandemic.
For those who are not convinced homemade masks are of any benefit, wearing one as a matter of precaution could be a small price to pay, especially if masks prove to be the game-changer while we await a vaccine.
A growing body of experts are acknowledging homemade masks are a simple, low cost and highly-effective tool against COVID-19. It is imperative that the majority of people support wearing these masks in public, as lives will be saved, the rate of infection will be drastically reduced so we can get back to work to get the economy thriving again – and we can be free from lockdown to begin our new post-pandemic lives.
Further information on easy-to-make masks
When making masks, the focus should be on blocking the droplets from leaving the nose and mouth, by using multiple layers. It is highly recommended to use two layers of 100 percent cotton or an old t-shirt, with one or two layers of disposable kitchen paper towel inserted between the layers.
When the mask has been used or is damp from condensation/saliva/coughing or sneezing: wash your hands before taking the mask off; remove the paper towel and seal it in a plastic bag; put it in a rubbish bin; wash the cloth mask in hot soapy water (it is apparently safe to wash it with other clothes); wash your hands again; dry the mask once washed; insert a fresh paper towel or two and it is ready to wear next time. If possible, make two masks so one mask is always available to use.
Here are some of the many ways to make homemade masks without sewing, or by hand-sewing and sewing machines: