The United States Center for Diseases Control and Prevention changed its stand on the use of masks and went ahead to advise all Americans to wear face coverings when walking in public, to avoid catching the virus. This recommendation, given on Friday, comes at a time when medical masks such as surgical masks and the popular N95 masks are short in supply. These, CDC advised, should be reserved for those in charge of the provision of health care in various health centers. One main thing to note is that this is a recommendation and not a mandatory thing. This will simply be an addition to the social distancing and handwashing measures that have so far been emphasized and advertised as solid ways to prevent the virus from spreading at a fast rate. Anyone wearing a facemask should, therefore, exercise all the precautionary measures advised in the past.
The new guidelines stipulated by the CDC call for all people to wear face masks when they are they are not in their homes, regardless of their health status. Most of the face coverings available for use can actually be reused and even washed. Infected people who are not showing any signs can still spread the virus to other people, but the homemade face coverings and other facemasks will be essential in the prevention of the spread of the virus.
The previous guidelines offered by CDC recommended that the general public should uphold the social distancing and handwashing measures, but should not wear facemasks unless they are ill or caring for someone who has been confirmed to be infected.
The new CDC guidelines took a solid stand on the fact that the public should avoid rushing to purchase N95 masks. These face masks are already dwindling in supply, even as it becomes more apparent that they are needed by health workers who have been tasked with fighting the pandemic. People should instead rely on cloth masks or any other suitable homemade face coverings. Those who prefer using homemade masks should use up to 4 layers of fabric. This, some health centers have asserted, will be sufficient to block out most microorganisms.
These guidelines were preceded by the advice given by Deborah Birx during the White House briefing given on Thursday. Birx, who is currently tasked with advising the administration about the current Coronavirus pandemic, made it clear that the government’s delay in recommending for people to wear face coverings was mainly as a result of the preconceived fear that people would get a false sense of security upon wearing the masks, and this would lead to them not taking the other measures in a bid to slow down the spread of the virus. Wearing the mask, Birx clarified, is not a guarantee that you will not get infected. Any face mask, should therefore not be a substitute for all previously issued guidelines.
Amazon also put restrictions on the supply and sale of various protective equipment reserved for health workers, including N95 masks, medical gloves, as well as antibacterial wipes. This ecommerce giant made this move on Thursday, as it further made it known that it would be limiting the availability of the hard-to-find equipment to health providers and the government. Such is a move that is similar to what happened in early March, when eBay banned a significant number of N95 masks and hand sanitizer listings, to prevent price-gouging scenarios.
The detection of the new coronavirus made headlines towards the end of 2019, when the first patient tested positive in Wuhan, China. This virus causes a respiratory disease that is popularly known as COVID-19, which is linked to other life-threatening respiratory conditions like SARS and MERS. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak of this virus a pandemic in March. As of now, most people in various cities around the world have been forced to remain at home to help with slowing down the rate at which the virus is spreading. As of Friday, an estimated 1 million people had tested positive for the virus as per the test results released by health centers as well as those received from At Home Testing efforts. More than 58,000 patients with the virus have died so far.
CDC works alongside the World Health Organization to see to it that the medical community received proper guidelines to follow. It is highly likely that the CDC’s stand on homemade masks will change in the future. After acknowledging that there is a shortage in the supply of N95 masks, CDC has through its website advised people to rely on any of the five alternatives stipulated, in case the Health Care Provider (HCP) does not have a mask.
The CDC site has the following to say about the use of homemade masks:
In scenarios in which there are no face masks for use, HCP can opt for homemade masks such as bandanas and scarfs, as they care for patients who have tested positive for the virus through the use of Rapid Test Kits. This should only be a last resort. Homemade masks are not classified as PPE since their capability to offer protection to HCP has not been verified. Caution should, as such, be exercised when one decides to go with the homemade masks option. These masks should be used alongside face shields that cover the front and sides of one’s face.
On a different page on the CDC website, the following guidelines are also offered for scenarios in which N95 masks are not available:
In scenarios where there are no N95 and other higher-level respirators such as surgical masks, it may be quite necessary for HCP to rely on homemade masks or other masks that have not been approved by NIOSH. Such masks can be utilized by HCP during the provision of care to patients who have various respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Caution should, however, be exercised whenever one decided to rely on these masks.
It is worth noting that homemade masks are not sufficiently sterilized. Factory-made masks offered by brands such as 3M, Kimberly-Clark, Prestige Ameritech are all sterilized, which makes them suitable for use in hospital settings. Handmade face masks offer no guarantee of protection when used in an environment that has coronavirus. Measures such as washing the masks may, however, help with limiting the contact with the virus in such scenarios.