America, Unmasked No More

As reports of a novel coronavirus began streaming in, masks were ubiquitous among people in China and other early targets of the virus.
America has been slower to embrace the trend, but that seems set to change as the US government is expected to advise Americans to don masks to help slow transmission of the virus, The Washington Post reports.

Now that it's clear people are spreading the virus before they show symptoms, an increasing number of voices are calling on the public to wear masks. New CDC guidelines say that masks—even simple homespun varieties—could slow transmission from individuals who are infected but not showing symptoms.

The shift follows a lengthy debate over the utility of masks for the general public, with limited scientific evidence to prove their effectiveness, as authors in a CIDRAP commentary note. There is concern, too, that they could convey a false sense of protection and lead people to ease crucial social distancing measures.

The Catch: America does not have enough professional-grade masks to protect even frontline health workers. So for now, ordinary Americans are advised to DIY it and make masks out of cloth, to help ensure that health workers and first responders are equipped first.

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1 comment

Carol Vassar, MD
April 5, 2020

People are making masks, and many instruction videos are currently on YouTube most of which do not seem likely to provide much benefit. Do you have any information about fabrics with higher filtration efficiency that people should use and information on any design? Several designs wrap around the face and well under the chin reducing air coming under the mask without being filtered through the fabric. Still the choice of fabric is needed. Nelson Labs tests material for making NIOSH, FDA approved masks. They want 5 samples of material and charge $155 for each piece tested. That price may vary with the test requested. The N 95 filters are tested with 0.3 micron sodium chloride aerosol at 85 l/min to establish the minimum accepted protection per CDC and OSHA. That would show the comparison and give hospitals who are considering using home made masks a better basis for the decision. The information could be made available on your site. Should you order the material testing, please consider the fabric used by Turtle Fur for their tube head gear- their ski buff, but "buff" is the term another company uses. Except that it needs a strip of metal over the nose to reduce air leakage between the nose and the cheek, it is ready to go as it is, just a stretch tube. The fabric is a tight knit of polyester and spandex that is brushed on the inside for comfort but also makes it a better filter. I have no ties to Turtle Fur. Being a skier, I have a few of the buffs and have been using them as my face cover and would like to know how well it works compared to other fabrics. Other materials that might be tested are coffee filters that could be used between layers of any homemade mask. I can order the testing but this would be more appropriate for a respected organization to perform the pubic service since these masks are being made all over the country for who knows what benefit.

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