As the demand for face masks rose exponentially this year due to the pandemic, people have taken to YouTube to learn how to make their own face masks at home using cloth and other soft fabrics. However, it is already well established that N95 masks, which can filter down to 0.3 microns, are the most effective against stopping the spread of the virus.
Unfortunately, N95 masks are not abundant and are most needed at hospitals, where patients need them to prevent spreading the virus to others and front-line health workers need them to protect themselves from the hundreds, if not thousands of patients they might see everyday.
Are my home-made fabric face masks effective against the coronavirus?
The simple answer is no. A new video case study, published in the journal Thorax, demonstrates how home-made cloth/fabric face masks require at least 2-3 layers to prevent the dispersion of viral droplets, CNN reports.
Due to the demand for PPE (personal protective equipment), the CDC does recommend people wear home-made face masks as a preventative measure. In some places in the U.S., it has even been made an offense not to wear a face mask in public. For the best protection of yourself and others around you, it is best that you make your face mask with multiple layers of cloth/fabric. The study indicates that effectiveness increases with 2, or preferably 3 layers.
The study observed the dispersion of airborne droplets from a healthy person by using a high-speed camera paired with an LED lighting system. Observations of talking, sneezing, and coughing were all observed. On analyzing the video, researchers found that the 3-ply surgical mask was the most effective at reducing the dispersion of droplets. Even though a single layer cloth mask did prevent a few droplets, double layer and triple layer offered protection way beyond just speaking.
The researchers say, “Guidelines on home-made cloth masks should stipulate multiple layers. There is a need for more evidence to inform safer cloth mask design, and countries should ensure adequate manufacturing or procurement of surgical masks.”
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