Information on the COVID-19 pandemic seems to change on a daily basis. The World Health Organisation (WHO), Coronavirus researchers and other medical experts are constantly making discoveries about the new virus that alter our understanding of it. One of the latest changes in advice is the effectiveness of face masks.
Previously, the WHO suggested that surgical or fabric face masks were ineffective against the virus but should be worn by people displaying some of the symptoms. The belief was that face masks could catch the large droplets of saliva that contain COVID-19 in patients that are coughing and sneezing. However, they said that face masks would not stop healthy people from contracting the virus.
Face masks slow the transmission of COVID-19
New research from various health organisations, including the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has shown this belief to be false. Health experts now advise the public to wear face masks when visiting the shops, pharmacy, doctor or any space where you interact with others. This will slow the spread of the virus and reduce community-based transmissions.
Recent studies have revealed that a large portion of people who contract COVID-19 either lack symptoms entirely (asymptomatic) or only develop symptoms about two weeks after infection. These individuals are still contagious and can spread the virus without knowing it. For this reason, a face mask should be worn for the purpose of protecting others, rather than protecting yourself.
The CDC and WHO further suggest that face masks can be made from household materials, such as old clothes and fabric. This also allows medical-grade surgical masks and N95 filters to be more readily available for healthcare workers and those who encounter COVID-19 on a daily basis.
However, people must remember that these face masks are to be worn to catch any contaminated droplets of saliva. They are also only effective if you do not touch your face, so avoid adjusting the mask constantly. Remember to wash them on a daily basis and avoid touching objects after removing the mask, until you have washed your hands with soap and water. Here is some advice on wearing, removing and washing your masks.
How to make a fabric face mask
If you have some spare fabric or old clothes lying around, you can make your own masks. For those who have no sewing skills, here is an easy way to make a cloth face covering with an old shirt and some rubber bands. Take a square piece of cloth, fold the top down to the middle and the bottom up to the middle.
Place a trimmed coffee filter in the middle of the cloth and fold the top down and bottom up once again. Place a rubber band around either end of the now-rectangular piece of cloth, about three centimetres in. Fold in the outer edges at the location of the rubber bands and bring the cloth up to your face. Place the bands around your ears and adjust the cloth so that it covers your nose and mouth:
If you know how to work a sewing machine, here are some helpful guidelines. You will need some tightly woven cotton fabric, some pins, elastic thread, a needle, some cotton thread and a pair of scissors.
- Cut the cotton fabric into two 25cm by 15cm rectangles. Place one on top of the other and secure with pins.
- Fold in about 6mm of the long sides of the two fabric sheets and sew a hem.
- Fold in about 1cm of the short sides and stitch them down, leaving the top and bottom unstitched.
- Thread a 15cm long piece of elastic through each of the wide hems on the short side of the fabric. Stitch the two ends of the elastic together, making a loop that can fit around each ear. If you don’t have elastic, you can use rubber bands or string.
- Gather the sides of the mask on the elastic loops and adjust so that the mask fits the face and covers the nose and mouth.
These tips will allow you to make your own face masks at home and protect those around you from catching the virus if you are unknowingly infected. Remember to follow these tips for protecting yourself from COVID-19. Avoid buying face masks and N95 filters unnecessarily because our healthcare workers need them more than we do.
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