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Note: This story was first published on 28 April 2020 and updated on 8 June 2020.
An ever growing number of governments, experts and health agencies are telling people to wear a face mask or cover their face in some form when they're out in public.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of fabric face masks and coverings. But it does recommend their use in areas where the virus is still transmitting at a high rate -- particularly in settings where you may not be able to keep a physical distance from people of at least 1 metre (other health agencies recommend a distance of at least 2 metres).
All experts and agencies stress that people should not wear a medical-grade surgical mask, as these should be reserved for the people who need them most:
But the WHO is now also recommending medical face masks for:
This is again advised in areas where the virus continues to transmit at a high rate and in situations where people can't keep distance themselves from others.
Face masks are not a substitute for washing your hands regularly and keeping your distance from other people.
But given the ongoing nature of the pandemic, you may want to make your own face mask as an additional way to protect yourself.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US was the first to recommend that everyone cover their mouth and nose with a cloth in public.
They particularly advise wearing cloth coverings in places where physical distancing may be hard to practice, like the supermarket, pharmacy or on public transport.
This decision was made after recent studies showed that many people with coronavirus lack symptoms, and even those who eventually do show symptoms can spread the virus to others before displaying them.
But the agency says cloth face masks should not be worn by children under the age of 2, anyone who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove the mask without help.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is not directly advising people to wear cloth face masks in public but says they could be considered, especially in busy, closed spaces.
The WHO is now recommending people wear cloth face masks in public in areas where the virus is spreading widely, particularly in settings where keeping a physical distance may be difficult.
A report by the UK's Royal Society concluded that face masks would help reduce the spread of the virus in these situations.
Many groups of scientists have also written open letters calling for the use of face masks in public.
The coronavirus is spread through droplets that are released into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or breathes out. It can then infect people through their eyes, nose and mouth.
Evidence on whether fabric face masks can capture these droplets and prevent the spread of infections is very limited. One small study suggested they could be used as a last resort, as they did reduce the number of bacteria and viruses a person breathes out.
But another study on health workers found they increase the risk of infection as they can get moist and may be reused.
The Royal Society report, however, concluded that cloth face masks do catch enough of the virus particles a person breathes out to help reduce the number of infections spreading in the community.
The WHO fear that wearing a face mask may make people less likely to follow other important measures, such as handwashing and physical distancing.
The agency also says it may lead to people touching their face more often - under the mask and under the eyes - because they have something unfamiliar on their face.
It also says that evidence about the benefit to the wider community isn’t clear.
But given the coronavirus continues to spread widely in some countries, the WHO are now advising that cloth face masks may provide an extra level of protection in these places.
There are a few ways to make your own mask at home using fabric and elastic bands.
The WHO suggests a 3-layered mask may provide the most protection. These are made of:
The CDC suggests a few simpler ways to make a face mask - with or without sewing.
How to do it:
How to do it:
How to do it:
If you make your own face mask then you must know how to use it properly:
There’s some limited evidence that cloth face masks may create problems by someone taking it off the wrong way or wearing it repeatedly without washing it, so it’s crucial to clean your face mask properly. You should:
If hot water is not available, wash the mask in soap/detergent and room-temperature water, followed by either:
Remember that wearing a face mask - homemade or not - is not a substitute for following the advice given by your government to reduce the spread of coronavirus. You should still:
If you think you may have coronavirus, you can use our COVID-19 Symptom Mapper to check your symptoms and compare them with others around the world.
This should give you a better understanding of how the illness is affecting you and will help us to map the spread of the outbreak.
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Face Masks for the General Public [Internet].s-delve.github.io. 2020 [cited 4 May 2020] Available [here]
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.