Precaution is the single best way to deal with the novel coronavirus. Stay at home, stay clean and maintain social distance and the chances of you contracting the virus decrease considerably.
We all have come across several precautions that we can take to protect ourselves. Wash your hands regularly, cough/sneeze into your elbow, always have a sanitizer ready have been some of them. While some of these have been recommended by the World Health Organization and attested by medical professionals, the outbreak has also lead to rumour-mongering about the necessary precautions you need to take.
One of these has been that you need to wear a mask at all times. However, this has been busted by the WHO itself, which has stated that you only need a mask if you’re coughing/sneezing or taking care of an infected person.
However, this lack of awareness has led to a shortage of masks in the market, with even medical authorities failed to meet their demands. Several suggestions and WhatsApp forwards also claim that you can use your handkerchief.
So can you use your handkerchief as a mask?
Handkerchief As Masks Aren’t Effective
The WHO’s guidelines on the usage of masks read “Cloth (e.g. cotton or gauze) masks are not recommended under any circumstance.” Well, that solves that, doesn’t it? The main purpose of face masks is to catch large contaminants and pollutants, including the ones that may carry the novel coronavirus. The surgical masks in addition to this, also serve the purpose of keeping large respiratory droplets and suspended air pollutants away from a person’s mouth and nose.
Also since a makeshift mask made with a handkerchief will fit loosely around your face, it has even fewer chances of being able to stop the contaminated particles. It will loosely around your nose and mouth, and fine, virus-laden airborne particles could be inhaled with unfiltered air around its edges. Handkerchiefs, bandannas, and other articles of clothing do not have the barriers needed to protect someone from spreading illness or from contracting illness.
Another reason why a makeshift mask made from a handkerchief is that it offers a false sense of security and fails to achieve its desired purpose. They do not form an airtight seal and are of limited help to protect a healthy person from contracting a respiratory virus. Ultimately, it could also lead to a sick person transmitting coronavirus infection to others by trapping respiratory droplets
DIY Masks In Times of Emergency
However, there have been several instances wherein the supply of surgical and N95 face masks hasn’t been able to meet the growing demand. Even the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its advice, suggesting that, in a crisis, healthcare workers could use bandana or scarves over their faces while treating patients, even though neither are proven to be effective. This has come in light of the fact that hospitals in the US may be days away from running out of their supply for medical equipment.
Therefore, if a time comes that you’re exhibiting symptoms and can’t find a face mask to buy, you may have to resort to this alternative as well. While this isn’t a foolproof precaution, it could be used in times of distress. However, even in the case of a DIY face mask, it is important to keep in mind several guidelines to maximize their effectiveness. They must be put on clean, taken off carefully, and paired with rigorous hand washing, and the discipline not to touch the face.
The effective of your face mask also depends on the material that you’re using. This 2013 Cambridge University study provides an interesting insight on how household materials hold up against micron-size particles and viruses. According to it, a vacuum cleaner bag was considered the most formidable household material with a rate of nearly 86 per cent protection against the smallest particles tested. Falling behind was a standard dish towel at nearly 73 per cent; a cotton-blend T-shirt at 70 per cent; and an antimicrobial pillowcase at 68 per cent.
So if you’re looking to make a mask at home, remember to keep all these factors in mind and follow these simple steps!