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Are DIY Masks Better Than Nothing? What Experts Think Is The Best Protection From COVID-19

Can cloth masks protect you from the virus if you don't own PPE?
PHOTO BYiStock

At the start of the month, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease made the wearing of face masks mandatory for anyone going outside during the enhanced community quarantine. But due to a shortage in personal protective equipment (PPEs), the IATF recommended that Pinoys use anything that can cover the wearer’s nose and mouth, including face masks, earloop masks, reusable masks, do-it-yourself (DIY) masks, face shields, and even handkerchiefs.

But are masks really an effective measure against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)? The World Health Organization maintains its stance that you should “only wear a mask if you are ill with COVID-19 symptoms (especially coughing) or looking after someone who may have COVID-19.” But according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing “cloth face coverings” in public settings is recommended especially for those who are asymptomatic (do not exhibit symptoms) and pre-symptomatic (those who eventually develop symptoms) as recent studies have shown that they can still spread the virus to others.

How effective are DIY face masks?

Videos of DIY masks have gone viral, but is wearing them better than nothing at all? In an FAQ (frequently asked questions) posted on the University of Hong Kong’s website, Professor Ivan Hung of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, shared that DIY masks can help reduce the amount of microbes expelled from a cough or sneeze, but its effectiveness is only 1/3 of a surgical mask.

As for handkerchiefs, towels, and scarves, these can “prevent direct contact of droplets onto your nose and mouth to a limited extent,” but they will not be effective in protecting you against COVID-19.

Would wearing multiple masks and filters improve effectiveness?

More than layering, the key to effective filtration is the fit of the mask. Wearing masks on top of each other will affect its fit and obstruct your breathing, according to Professor Hung.

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Putting filters inside your masks won’t make it more effective, either. Surgical masks have three layers: the outer layer prevents droplets, the middle layer blocks viruses, and the inner layer absorbs moisture and saliva. “The three layers each have specialized uses and cannot be bought in stores, while filters derived from other household items would obstruct breathing,” according to Dr. Hung.

So why should I still wear face masks when going out?

The recommendations for masks or cloth face coverings are there because “any kind of impediment is better than nothing,” says May Chu, a clinical professor in epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health, in an interview with LiveScience.com. It can help individuals who are positive with COVID-19 but are asymptomatic from unknowingly passing along the virus.

But even with these PPEs on, Pinoys should not let masks give them a false sense of security. We should still keep social distancing and other preventive measures like frequent handwashing in mind.

“Putting a face mask on does not mean you stop the other practices,” says Professor Chu. “It does not mean you get closer to people, it does not mean you don’t have to wash your hands as often and you can touch your face. All of that still is in place, this is just an add-on.”

Are you the household member assigned to shop for groceries and other essentials? Click here for the proper way to disinfect your clothes when you’ve been outside and here for ways you can disinfect groceries and food deliveries. For more stories on COVID-19, click here.


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