A lot of people are making homemade facemasks. Do they protect you from coronavirus? | Michigan Radio

A lot of people are making homemade facemasks. Do they protect you from coronavirus?

Mar 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 some hospitals are using homemade masks. Henry Ford Hospital announced Friday 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.

In fact, masks of any kind aren't recommended for healthy people. Simply wearing a mask is not as effective as staying home, washing your hands often, and maintaining social distance. 

However, if you are sick or think you may have COVID-19, wearing a facemask is recommended to stop the spread of the transmission of the disease via coughing or sneezing.

Want to support reporting like this? Consider making a gift to Michigan Radio today.