What you need to know about homemade face masks

Posted at 7:29 PM, Apr 06, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- Governor Ralph Northam advised Virginians to wear a face covering when in public during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“People can transmit this virus even if they don’t have symptoms. That’s one reason why the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, has issued guidelines to wear face coverings,” Northam stated during his Monday press conference.

Northam showed reporters his personal fabric covering designed and made by the Department of Corrections. He reassured that Virginians won’t be cited for wearing a face mask despite current state law prohibiting the practice.

“When we exit the building that’s when we wear the mask and when we are inside in our offices we don’t keep them on,” Northam explained.

The CDC has recommended the use of cloth face coverings to help reserve surgical masks or N-95 respirators for medical professionals fighting the novel coronavirus.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams demonstrated in a video posted to Youtube how to make a face covering using fabric from a t-shirt and rubber bands. He said an old scarf, bandana, or a hand towel could also be used.

However, a Winston-Salem, North Carolina doctor has discovered not all fabrics are effective at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Dr. Scott Segal, a professor and chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health, measured the percentage of particles blocked by certain fabrics. He worked in partnership with the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine to conduct the study.

Surgical masks block between 62 and 65 percent of particles, he said. N-95 respirators filtered out more than 95 percent of particles.

Dr. Segal discovered some fabrics blocked only one percent of particles, while others are more effective than surgical masks.

“The higher quality thicker weave thread count that sewing people called quilters cotton works better,” he explained.

Segal also recommended fabrics with an internal layer of flannel, which allowed for breathability.

“We have a rule of thumb that seems to work reasonably well. Hold the fabric to a bright light or the sun and see if the light is easily passing through the fabric and you can see the outlines of the fibers. If it can, it wouldn’t make a very good mask,” he explained.

Experts warned that cloth face coverings are designed to prevent sick people from spreading germs. The best way to prevent illness is by staying home.

According to the CDC, cloth face coverings should:

• Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
• Be secured with ties or ear loops
• Include multiple layers of fabric
• Allow for breathing without restriction
• Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

Dr. Segal found masks with ties as opposed to elastic fit better around the face. He urged people to avoid touching their face when removing the masks and to constantly wash your hands.

VCU Health posted instructions about how to sew face masks to wear alone or to help extend the life of personal protective equipment.

The university also offered advice about the possible methods to clean used masks for additional uses:

• Soak it in 75% ethyl alcohol and let dry
• Wipe down the mask with bleach
• Microwave the mask
• Steam with vapor from boiling water
• Soak in soap and water

A growing group of seamstresses and community members have used this advice to get homemade masks to first responders in Central Virginia.

In March, Julie Haynes Kratzer helped organize the “RVA Masks 4 Health"Facebook Group.

The group has amassed nearly 3,500 members who signed up to sew the masks or deliver supplies.

“There’s just tons of stuff on the internet right now and people are scared,” Kratzer explained. “They’re just trying to find information like, ‘What should I do? What should I make?’”

She estimated her group has contributed thousands of masks that will help medical professionals extend the use of their personal protective equipment.

“We love being able to post the pictures of the nurses wearing our masks,” Kratzer stated. “We get a lot of pictures back saying thank you. It’s a huge morale boost and it’s the reason we are doing it.”

Depend on CBS 6 News and for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.