D.I.Y. medical masks: Are they safe?

Updated: Mar. 24, 2020 at 10:06 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - The coronavirus pandemic has hit the medical field hard — causing a shortage of medical supplies, like N95 masks, needed to fight COVID-19.

We’ve seen many people across the country and our state have stepped up to help make D.I.Y. masks for healthcare workers and the community. But, is it safe?

Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, the regional medical director for the Office of Public Health, said these are not effective in protecting yourself against coronavirus.

“Now homemade masks are not tested and tried. More than likely, they’re not going to have a fine enough particle size filter that will truly be effective against a virus like this, that’s very very small," Cavanaugh said.

She said these should only be used as a last resort.

“The CDC has added some guidance to their website that in *extreme *dire cases, when there is *absolutely nothing else available, maybe some of those homemade products could be better than nothing. Although there is not any data to prove that, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend that as an option unless there are NO other options available,” Cavanaugh said.

We reached out to Lake Charles Memorial Hospital and Christus Ochsner St. Patrick Hospital to see if they’re accepting these homemade masks.

Christus sent 7News a statement that reads:

"At CHRISTUS Ochsner Health Southwestern Louisiana, we are continually amazed by the generosity and selflessness of the communities we are privileged to serve. Even while these communities cope with the difficulties of dealing with COVID-19, we are again amazed by their offers to give to their friends and neighbors in health care through our hospitals and clinics. Our system has received numerous offers from both groups and individuals looking to donate their time, energy and even supplies to our efforts to keep this community safe and healthy.

While CHRISTUS doesn't have a mask shortage at this time, we certainly have concerns and we are taking more steps to secure more supplies. The evidence on the efficacy of cloth masks is scarce, but what we have accessed thus far does not indicate that they are useful in protecting health care workers from infection. As a result, we are focusing on securing medical masks and N95 masks for our providers. Cloth masks may work well in other situations or for other conditions, however, so we are happy to accept donations and hold them for those needs.

Thank you for so many in our community that have asked, “How can I help?” especially those who are donating cloth masks. The response has been wonderful. We appreciate the expressions of kindness to all of us as we respond to COVID-19. We are humbled by the donations, the faith in our ministry and our mission to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ."

Memorial also sent 7News a statement, which reads:

Homemade face masks are allowed to be worn by hospital staff who are not in ares that are a high risk for exposure and in direct patient care of patients either under investigation or have tested positive for COVID-19. These face masks are generally used by staff in non-clinical areas and by those who are more comfortable with a covering. The homemade face masks are not used as an alternative for PPE in patient care situations that call for proper protection."

Cavanaugh directed us to this CDC recommendation on homemade masks:

The CDC says in settings where face masks are not available, healthcare providers might use homemade masks for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. however, homemade masks are not considered personal protective equipment, since their capability to protect the healthcare provider is unknown. caution should be exercised when considering this option. homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front and sides of the face.

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