While medical face masks should be reserved for health professionals battling the coronavirus amid a shortage of protective equipment, some experts are saying others should consider improvising their own mask.
“Cover your face with cloth — however you want to do that,” Shan Soe-Lin, a lecturer at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, told The New York Times. “Cover your face pretty thoroughly from your mouth to your nose to prevent large aerosol droplets coming out or going in.”
New data showing as many as 25 percent of those infected are asymptomatic has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reconsider advising the public not to wear masks, the Times reported.
“I think increasing evidence suggests the virus is spread not just through droplets but through aerosols,” Dr. Gerardo Chowell, an epidemiologist at Georgia State University, told the Times. “It would make a lot of sense to encourage at the very least face-mask use in enclosed spaces, including supermarkets.”
Studies have shown that wearing a mask can lower the risk for respiratory infection, including SARS, the Times reported.
Shan wrote in an op-ed for The Boston Globe that scarves and bandanas can be used if inexpensive cloth masks are unavailable.
Scientists who study airborne diseases advise that thicker fabric will give more protection, and Linsey Marr, an airborne disease expert at Virginia Tech, told the Times that thick cotton or felt are ideal.
She said if you use a bandana, triple it up because the fabric is so thin it likely won’t give much protection.
Cloth masks should be washed every day you wear them.
Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration in the Trump administration, told The Washington Post that homemade masks like bandanas don't protect the wearer from the virus, but could keep the wearer from spreading infected droplets.
“A cotton mask — we should be putting out guidelines from the CDC on how you can develop a mask on your own," he said.
Gottlieb wrote a pandemic-response plan published by the American Enterprise Institute last weekend that calls for “everyone, including people without symptoms...to wear nonmedical fabric face masks while in public.”
Dr. Adit Ginde, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told the Times, “I still believe that masks are primarily for health care workers and for those who are sick to help prevent spreading droplets to others. However, I do believe that for limited circumstances when individuals must be in close quarters with others, a correctly positioned mask or other face cover for a short duration could be helpful.”