How To Safely Make & Use A DIY Mask, According To Scientists

More and more people are looking to either make or buy A DIY mask, but there are certain things you need to keep in mind before you do either, here is a look at How To Safely Make & Use A DIY Mask, According To Scientists.

COVID-19 is spreading across the globe faster than any of us can keep up.  The number of people dying and sick are both staggering and sobering to take in.

Hospitals are struggling and in some cases fighting over who gets the limited supplies of PPE (personal protective gear), including face masks.

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Some hospitals, like Sunnybrook in Toronto Canada, are so short of supplies, they are asking people to donate critical protective equipment to help keep them safe.

Stating on their website that “this is why we are asking the community to donate unused & unopened masks, gowns and eye protection to those who need it most. Across Ontario, there is an impending shortage of this critical equipment in our hospitals and health-care settings.”

The Michael Garron Hospital Foundation in Toronto has started a campaign calling on people who can sew to help make 1,000 masks a week for discharged patients, visitors and vulnerable communities so that surgical masks can be reserved for health-care workers. Staff in some hospitals are putting handmade masks over their N95 respirators to help make them last longer.

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The mask as the centre of all of this is the N95 masks. The shortage of these masks for front line health workers is leaving them vulnerable at a time when they need them the most, with authorities asking people not to purchase them but rather look at other options, like making your own or buying a DIY one. 

We’ve seen popular fashion giants like Christian Soriano move production to make medical-grade masks and gowns and we’ve seen smaller, sustainable companies like Encircled jump to help as well.

When the pandemic first began the CDC recommended against using masks but have since changed, you can take a look at their guidelines hereThe recommendation that everyone wears masks is in part to keep germs in, but also protecting people from inhaling viral particles.

On Health Canada’s website it states the following when addressing the use of personal face masks:

“Wearing a non-medical mask is an additional measure you can take to protect others around you”

‘Wearing a non-medical mask is another way to cover your mouth and nose to prevent your respiratory droplets from contaminating others or landing on surfaces. Just like our recommendation not to cough into your hands (instead, cover your cough with tissues or your sleeve) a mask can reduce the chance that others are coming into contact with your respiratory droplets.”

If wearing a non-medical mask makes you feel safer and stops you from touching your nose and mouth, that is also good. But remember not to touch or rub your eyes.

It is important to understand that non-medical masks have limitations and need to be used safely.

If you choose to use a non-medical face mask:

– you must wash your hands immediately before putting it on and immediately after taking it off (in addition to practicing good hand hygiene while wearing it)

– it should fit well (non-gaping)

– you should not share it with others

– Face masks can become contaminated on the outside, or when touched by your hands.

When wearing a mask, take the following precautions to protect yourself:

– avoid touching your face mask while using it

– change a cloth mask as soon as it gets damp or soiled

– put it directly into the washing machine or a bag that can be emptied into the washing machine and then disposed of

– cloth masks can be laundered with other items using a hot cycle, and then dried thoroughly.

– non-medical masks that cannot be washed should be discarded and replaced as soon as they get damp, soiled or crumpled

– dispose of masks properly in a lined garbage bin

– don’t leave discarded masks in shopping carts, on the ground, etc.

Where to find masks and important information on the best types of fabrics to use: 

Etsy Canada has so many options to choose from.  And I really like this DIY option from Popular Science Magazine and the CDC also has patterns and instructions on how to make one at home.

But remember that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Health Canada, homemade masks are considered a last resort. The first line of defence is practicing social distancing by staying home to flatten the curve.

While these homemade face coverings offer a sense of comfort, they are by no means a complete solution.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Saturday that Canada, “like the United States, (is) looking at the latest information and looking at recommendations right now.”

Adding that she believes a homemade facial covering of some type — one that would not count as medical equipment needed by doctors — could be beneficial.

She emphasized that distance from each other is the most important thing. But if that distance is not possible, or is difficult, then “having an additional covering and a barrier to prevent you from spreading droplets to others … is a reasonable thing to do.”

Medical professionals at Wake Forest Baptist Health have been testing the quality of these homemade designs, and have some tips on what works best.

A team looked at over 400 masks and tested 13 designs for their ability to filter microscopic particles.

Dr. Scott Segal, Chair of Anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist, initiated the idea. He says what they found was that some of the models worked better than a regular surgical mask, with 75-79 percent filtration, while others hardly worked at all.

“What you want to use is a high thread count, heavyweight cotton — this is sometimes called quilter’s cotton — and not the lower-grade, more open-weave, printed cotton fabric,” he says. “And [a] double layer is really important.”

He recommends at least 180 thread count because its weave is thicker and tighter, which allows for fewer particles to pass through.

Another model that worked well had an outer cotton outer layer with a flannel inner layer. Segal says a good indicator of fabric quality is to hold it up to a bright light source. The more light the material blocks, the better.

The least effective fabrics were scarves and cotton bandanas. However, bandanas, when layered with layers of a filtration system such as a few coffee filters, were significantly more effective.

The study found that 600-thread count pillowcase we quite effective when doubled up. Researches found that when folded into four layers, high-thread-count pillowcases offered up to 60% filtration.

Using HEPA furnace filters and vacuum cleaner bags were also among the best homemade alternatives.

Dr. Yang Wang, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, worked with his graduate students to study various combinations of layered materials and cautions that some HEPA filters (like those used for furnaces)  can potentially shed small fibers that would be risky to inhale. So if you want to use a filter, you need to sandwich the filter between two layers of cotton fabric.

After seeing posts on Twitter about whether scarves would sufficiently block aerosols, Wang decided to test a variety of household materials – including scarves, bandannas, pillowcases and household air filters – to see how well they might prevent the spread of aerosols.
Wang found that the layers of scarves and bandannas did a poor job of filtering out aerosols. Pillowcase fabric fared somewhat better, depending on thread count. A 600-count pillowcase filters better than a 400-count one, the researchers determined.
“There are so many different types of fabric” to consider, says Wang, who recently won an international award for his research on aerosols. “Even for t-shirts, there are different types of materials. We plan to look at different types of pillowcases, bed sheets and other fabrics with different thread counts” as part of the testing, he adds.
So what’s the best option? 
Scientists recommend three options:

One made from high-quality, heavyweight “quilter’s cotton”, Or one made with two layers using batik fabric, or one make with a double layer mask with an inner layer of flannel or an outer layer of cotton.

If you don’t have access to that, then a high count pillowcase with some sorry of filter between double layers will due.
You can also try this no-sew Origami Alternative:

Social distancing and staying at home are the best ways to prevent the spread of this virus.

How To Safely Make & Use A DIY Mask, According To Scientists

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