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CDC now recommends wearing homemade facemasks in public. How well do they protect you?

People across social media are sewing their own facemasks, but they don't do much to protect against coronavirus.
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People across social media are sewing their own facemasks, but they don't do much to protect against coronavirus.

Update, April 6, 2020:

The Centers for Disease Control issued new guidance on facemasks for the general public Friday, recommending that people consider wearing cloth face coverings in public.

The guidance is based on growing evidence that presymptomatic and asymptomatic people can spread the virus. 

Wearing a homemade mask may be helpful in protecting others, but it will not fully protect you from the novel coronavirus, especially if it is used improperly. If you do wear a mask, do not touch the front of it. Masks also are not a solution to continue living life as usual; you should continue to stay home as much as possible, practice proper social distancing, and wash your hands often. 

Read more about the dos and dont's of homemade facemasks here.

Can't sew? No problem. Check out our no-sew facemask tutorial:

Original post, March 24, 2020:

If you're on social media, you've probably seen some sort of crafting video that involves making a homemade facemask. With the supply of N95 respirators rapidly shrinking, people are turning to other options to try and protect themselves from coronavirus.

Even hospitals are using homemade masks. Henry Ford Hospital announced on March 20th that they will be producing and using homemade masks and face shields as a "creative" solution to the shortage. Other hospitals have put out calls asking for people to donate hand-sewn masks, as well as N95 respirators, surgical masks, or other protective gear.

But will wearing a homemade mask protect you from coronavirus? The short answer is, no. 

The longer answer is, while the Centers for Disease Control has said homemade masks can be used in hospitals, they make it clear that it should only be as an absolute last resort. The CDC literally lists homemade masks at the very bottom of their guidance webpage, and adds that they should be used with an abundance of caution:

"In settings where facemasks are not available, HCP [health care professionals] might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. However, homemade masks are not considered PPE [Personal Protective Equipment,] since their capability to protect HCP is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face."

Homemade masks - and surgical masks, for that matter - don't protect the user from breathing in small airborne particles. That's because they're loose-fitting, and can't properly filter the air.

That's a problem, because coronavirus spreads via the respiratory droplets produced by an infected person. N95 respirators are specifically designed to block those particles; 95% of them, to be exact.

Simply wearing a mask is not as effective as staying home, washing your hands often, and maintaining social distance.

And if you have N95 respirators, consider donating them to a hospital.

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Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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