THIS IS NOT A REPLACEMENT GUIDE FOR SURGICAL HOSPITAL MASKS, BUT AN ALTERNATIVE WHEN THOSE ARE NOT AVAILABLE.
DIY MASKS ARE IDEALLY INTENDED FOR USE BY THE GENERAL PUBLIC.
Face masks are becoming a symbol of solidarity – we wear them to protect each other, not just ourselves. As such, it is really important to demystify their use, while understanding how to properly wear them so they are a help and not a hinderance.
Facemasks have been used for a long time in medical settings and have been studied by medical and research personnel under multiple conditions (see here for references). Diverse types of facemasks have been used in hospitals for a very long time, including during the Spanish Flu period. Studies show they protect other family members when a person has Influenza virus in a household (MacIntyre et al, 2009, 2015), while other research concluded that the use of face masks and frequent hand washing help contain infections.
It is clear that different types of “surgical”- or “professional”-type masks provide superior protection than cloth masks (Patel, 2016; MacIntyre et al, 2009, 2015), though lower cost and higher availability mean they may still be used in contexts where the others are not attainable.
In March 2020, articles in the journal Science as well as in the New York Times suggested that the general population should start using facemasks in large scale, as it was recommended by the Chinese Health Authorities as one of the factors by which they were successful in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic in that country. There has also been growing consensus on their contribution to contention, as an increasing number of cities are implementing policies to enforce their use when in public places.
A systematic review during the SARS outbreak in 2003 found that hand washing more than 10 times daily was 55% effective in stopping virus transmission, while wearing a surgical mask was actually more effective — at about 68% (Jefferson et al, 2009) .
While cloth facemasks are less effective, they still help, particularly combined with frequent hand washing. In order to serve their purpose, they must be worn correctly, fit well, be comfortable, as well as changed and washed frequently.
It is important to note that facemasks do not guarantee you will not get infected. They are good in case you are taking care of a sick person, if you are ill and especially if you are asymptomatic, when you could be infecting people yourself. This is not an approved medical supply, but a DIY alternative. Please be aware. And we stress, please leave surgical masks for the health care professionals who are risking their lives to care for people.
Wear them when you go out shopping just in case, and if you get good at making them, consider maybe gifting them to the people working at the grocery store as a thank you for them doing their job and putting themselves at risk.