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Medical Officials Recommend Wearing Homemade Masks to Slow Spread of COVID-19

NYITCOM at A-State
Credit NYITCOM at A-State

This release comes from NYIT's College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University.  

As COVID-19 continues to spread through our communities, medical officials are now recommending that individuals wear facial coverings while they are in public.


That recommendation is twofold: It can reduce your risk of contracting the disease over wearing nothing, but it can also reduce the risk of the wearer from spreading the disease if they happen to be sick and not know it. 


Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that up to 25 percent of those infected with COVID-19 may not experience symptoms of the virus - such as a fever, aches, shortness of breath and a dry cough - and therefore are unknowingly spreading the disease. Wearing a facial covering can significantly lower the risk of those who come into close contact with infected individuals, particularly those who are unaware they’re carrying the virus.


“If you happen to be sick and don’t know it, wearing a facial covering can lower the risk of you spreading the virus,” said Shane Speights, DO, Dean of New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University. “If you come into contact with somebody who is sick and they don’t know it, their mask can protect you from receiving the virus from them.”


Initially, the general public was discouraged from utilizing facial coverings because of the low supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) available to health care providers and those working in health care facilities. However, in recent days, the CDC has delivered guidelines for producing quality facial coverings from materials routinely found in the home.  The homemade masks are the ones Speights recommends people wear as they visit the grocery store or pharmacy. 


“The last thing you want to do is take a hospital-grade mask or an N95 mask from the people that are on the front lines in any aspect of health care and give it to someone who is just using it to wear when they go to the store,” said Speights, who is a family physician and serves as medical director for the City of Jonesboro. “We need those to ensure that our health care providers are protecting themselves. Now that we have good information about masks that people can create in their homes, I’m a big fan of utilizing those options.”


Common household materials, like cotton-based fabrics used in pillowcases and t-shirts, are acceptable to use to create facial coverings.  The mask should be at least two-ply and thick enough that light doesn’t pass through it. The CDC recommends that all facial coverings be secured with ties or ear loops and allow for breathing without restriction. The covering should fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face and should be laundered after each use.  Patterns and models are available on the CDC website, CDC.org.


“My daughter recently made some for our family that took about 10 minutes to sew,” Speights said. “There are also models available that take less time than that and don’t require sewing. It’s not a difficult endeavor.”


Speights emphasized that facial masks should be treated as an additional practice to social distancing, hand washing and other directives that physicians and medical officials have been repeatedly advising in recent weeks.


“Just because you’re wearing something like this doesn’t mean you can ignore the social distancing practices that we’ve been emphasizing heavily,” Speights said. “You still need to stay six feet or more away from other people. You still need to stay home if you’re sick. You still need to wash your hands or use some sort of alcohol-based hand sanitizer regularly. This is just an added layer. You wear a mask in addition to all the other things you were already doing. It’s just a further step that can protect yourself or someone near you.”


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