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Why homemade face masks may not protect you from coronavirus – CNET




N95 face masks are currently in short supply.

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Grassroots campaigns across the US are urging residents to sew face masks at home for the medical community and for your own family’s protection. The trend comes at a time when the stock of certified N95 respirator masks — the protective equipment used by health care workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic — is critically low. 

There’s just one problem: Handmade masks won’t be as effective at protecting you from the coronavirus, no matter how extreme the shortage of proven N95 masks. A self-made cotton mask certainly won’t harm you as long as you understand its limitations, but assuming it will shield you from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, could put communities at greater risk if you’re not following other protocols to keep safe. 

While many argue that using a homemade mask is better than nothing, staying away from senior citizens and people with compromised immune systems are more surefire ways to keep them safe. For people who don’t work in health care, staying home in self-isolation or self-quarantine, frequently and thoroughly washing your hands and practicing appropriate social distancing are the best ways to lower the risk of exposure for you, your family and your community.

Global leaders and medical professionals ask that you please not buy N95 masks for yourself, so as to save them for the medical community that’s in desperate need. For example, Target has apologized for selling N95 masks amid the shortage.

If you do have a supply of N95 masks on hand, consider donating them to a health care facility or hospital near you. Here’s how to donate hand sanitizer and protective equipment to hospitals in need — and why you should also refrain from making your own hand sanitizer.

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N95 masks fit to your face and go through certification

N95 respirator masks differ from other types of surgical masks and face masks because they create a tight seal between the respirator and your face, which helps filter at least 95% of airborne particulates. They might include an exhalation valve to make it easier to breathe while wearing them. Coronavirus can linger in the air for up to 30 minutes and be transmitted from person to person through vapor (breath), coughing, sneezing, saliva and transfer over commonly touched objects.

Each model of N95 mask from each manufacturer is certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and HealthN95 surgical respirator masks go through a secondary clearance by the Food and Drug Administration for use in surgery — they better protect practitioners from exposure to substances such as patient blood.

In US health care settings, N95 masks must also go through a mandatory fit test using a protocol set by OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, before use. This video (linked) from manufacturer 3M shows some of the key differences between standard surgical masks and N95 masks.

Homemade masks are unregulated.

Who handmade masks are for

Hospitals and medical centers are taking nontraditional steps to resupply their stock, asking for community donations of items like N95 masks, protective goggles and nitrile gloves. Some that do request hand-sewn masks note that donated masks will go to worried patients and nonclinical staff, not physicians and nurses.

Protective equipment is in such short supply at other hospitals and medical care centers that they’re now driven to use surgical masks or other masks if there’s no other option — and only during COVID-19 conditions. Some health centers suggest their preferred patterns and request that masks have four layers of fabric to better block out particulates. In these cases, personnel are asked to maintain a high level of caution (more on this in the CDC section below).

Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital and the Boston Children’s Hospital shared a joint video about making a homemade reusable respirator mask in response to the current shortage. However, the design is currently limited to a pilot program and is not certified for official use. Here’s the legal disclaimer:

The device created as part of this publication should NOT be used as a replacement for conventional and approved Personal Protective Equipment. The device has not been industry tested nor has it been NIOSH approved. The publication of this article shall not constitute or be deemed to constitute any representation by the authors, their affiliates, and Boston Children’s Hospital and is intended for educational purposes only. The decision to use this device is solely your own.


One example of a hand-sewn face mask pattern.

Handmade masks: Cotton and elastic

The DIY projects that provide patterns and instructions for sewing face masks at home tell you to use materials like multiple layers of cotton, elastic bands and ordinary thread. 

By and large, the patterns contain simple folds with elastic straps to fit over your ears. Some are more contoured to resemble the shape of N95 masks. Still others contain pockets where you can add “filter media” that you can purchase elsewhere. 

It’s the belief of people who make their own masks that adding filters will help protect against transmission. However, there isn’t strong evidence that the masks will conform to the face tightly enough to form a strong seal, or that the filter material inside will work effectively. Standard surgical masks, for example, are known to leave gaps.

Homemade masks weren’t originally intended to protect you from COVID-19

Many sites sharing patterns and instructions for homemade masks were created as a fashionable way to keep the wearer from breathing in large particles, like car exhaust, air pollution and pollen during allergy season. They were not conceived of as a way to protect you from acquiring COVID-19.

One site, CraftPassion, includes this disclaimer:

Due to recent coronavirus attacks across the world, I have been receiving a lot of requests on how to add nonwoven filter inside the face mask. Disclaimer: this face mask is not meant to replace the surgical face mask, it is a contingency plan for those who have no avail to surgical mask in the market. Proper use of a surgical mask is still the best way to prevent virus infection.


A video by manufacturer 3M demonstrates key differences between N95 and standard surgical masks.

3M/Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s stance on homemade masks

The CDC is the US authority on coronavirus protocols and protection. Along with the World Health Organization, the CDC is the authoritative body that sets guidelines for the medical community to follow.

Acknowledging a shortage of N95 masks, one page on the CDC website suggests five alternatives if a health care provider, or HCP, doesn’t have access to an N95 mask. Handmade masks are not one of them. However, alternatives like wearing a full face shield or isolating the patient with a ventilated headboard are.

Here’s what one CDC site has to say about homemade masks:

In settings where face masks are not available, HCP might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort [our emphasis]. However, homemade masks are not considered PPE, since their capability to protect HCP 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 (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.

A different page on the CDC site appears to make an exception, however, for conditions where no N95 masks are available, including homemade masks.

HCP use of non-NIOSH approved masks or homemade masks

In settings where N95 respirators are so limited that routinely practiced standards of care for wearing N95 respirators and equivalent or higher level of protection respirators are no longer possible, and surgical masks are not available, as a last resort, it may be necessary for HCP to use masks that have never been evaluated or approved by NIOSH or homemade masks. It may be considered to use these masks for care of patients with COVID-19, tuberculosis, measles, and varicella. However, caution should be exercised when considering this option.

Homemade masks aren’t sterilized

Factory-made masks from brands like 3M, Kimberly-Clark and Prestige Ameritech go through certification and are considered sterile out of the box, which is crucial in hospital settings. With handmade face masks, there’s no guarantee the mask is sterile or free from an environment with coronavirus.

The CDC considers N95 masks contaminated after each single use and recommends discarding them. However, the severe shortage of N95 masks has caused many hospitals to take extreme measures in an attempt to protect doctors and nurses, like attempting to decontaminate masks between use. One medical center in Nebraska, for example, is experimenting with ultraviolet light treatments to sterilize N95 masks.

The danger: Not knowing the limits

If you still want to make your own face masks for personal use because it provides you a project and peace of mind, there’s no harm in that. What’s important to understand, however, is that sewing your own face mask may not greatly reduce your chances of acquiring the coronavirus, especially if you’re also engaged in risky behavior like going to crowded places. 

Since the coronavirus can be transmitted from someone who appears to be symptom-free but actually harbors the virus, it’s crucial to the health and wellness of people over 65 and those with underlying conditions to know which proven measures will help keep everyone safe.

For more information, here are eight common coronavirus health myths, how to sanitize your house and car and answers to all your questions about coronavirus and COVID-19.

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Ontario reports 129 new COVID-19 cases but continues downward trend – CTV News



Ontario is reporting 129 new COVID-19 cases as the downward trend continues in the province.

The new cases bring the provincial total to 36,723.

“Locally, 27 of Ontario’s 34 public health units reporting five or fewer cases, with 18 of them reporting no new cases at all,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said Sunday. “Hospitalizations, ICU admissions have both decreased with the number of vented patients being relatively stable.”

Ontario also added three new COVID-19 related deaths on Sunday, bringing the total to 2,719. The number of resolved patients also increased on Sunday by 112.

The 129 new cases comes after officials confirmed 130 infections on Saturday. On Thursday, 170 new cases were reported, the highest number noted in more than a week.

Where are the COVID-19 cases?

Twenty-seven of Ontario’s 34 public health units reported five or fewer cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, with 18 of them reporting no new cases at all.

According to Sunday’s epidemiology report, 30 of the new cases were found in Peel Region, nine were found in York Region, 36 were found in Toronto and seven were found in Windsor-Essex, a region that has been grappling with outbreaks among migrant workers.

Nearly 90 per cent of new cases in people under 60

Of the new cases in Ontario, 97 are between the ages of 20 and 59. There are 18 patients who are 19 years old or younger and 14 patients who are over the age of 59.

The majority of total deaths to date have been reported in people over the age of 79. One person under the age of 19 who had COVID-19 has died in Ontario, but it is not clear if the death was caused by the disease or other health issues.

Eleven patients who died were between the ages of 20 and 39, while 111 were between the ages of 40 and 59, and 722 were between the ages of 60 and 79.

More than 1,800 people over the age of 80 have died of the disease.

COVID-19 testing in Ontario

In the last 24 hours, just over 25,726 COVID-19 tests were conducted by officials.

Ontario health officials have conducted nearly 1.7 million tests for the disease since the pandemic was declared.

More than 16,000 tests are still under investigation.

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Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada – CTV News



For the last four months, Canada’s public health experts have been racing to stop the spread of COVID-19 by trying to figure out how everyone is getting it, and whom they may have given it to.

But even the best efforts have left doctors stymied about the source of more than one-third of this country’s known COVID-19 infections. Not knowing where cases come from makes outbreaks that much harder to stamp out.

Now medical researchers and supercomputers are turning genetics labs into virus detective agencies, looking first to find the novel coronavirus itself within blood samples from thousands of infected patients, and then comparing all of those isolated viruses to each other looking for places they differ.

Every close match will draw a line from patient to patient, ultimately painting a picture of how the virus spread.

“This is the big effort over the next four weeks,” said Andrew McArthur, director of the biomedical discovery and commercialization program at McMaster University.

“What’s going to come out of there pretty soon is a glimpse of what just happened, how did it move around the province, how did it move between provinces or how big was Pearson (airport) in the early days of the airport being open.”

Knowing how the virus spread will show where there were weaknesses in public health measures early on, said McArthur. Being able to keep divining genetic codes from samples will mean when there are flare-ups of cases, they can be quickly compared to each other to see if they’re all related or are coming from multiple sources.

It means, for example, a long-term care centre should be able to quickly know if its 10 new cases are because one case spread widely or arose from multiple carriers coming into the facility.

“That’s a very different infection-control problem,” said McArthur.

It also means that maybe, just maybe, the second COVID-19 wave most think is coming won’t be as bad, or as hard to control, as the first, because the sources can be isolated very quickly.

“A second wave is likely,” McArthur said. “But we’ve never spent this kind of money and effort before, either, so maybe we’ll beat it.”

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003.

This genetic mapping is constantly on the look-out for mutations. Thus far, SARS-CoV-2, the official name for the virus that causes COVID-19, has not mutated as quickly as many others do. Influenza, for instance, changes so much over a year the vaccine has to be retooled every summer to keep up.

But there are enough subtle changes still happening among the 28,000 individual markers that make up a genome for SARS-CoV-2 that cases can be traced backward and linked to the ones that came before. McArthur said it takes a lot of data storage, a lot of high-capacity computer analysis, and a lot of money, to run the comparisons among them all.

The federal government put $40 million on the table in April for genetic research on COVID-19. Half is to keep tabs on the virus as it spreads, look for any changes it undergoes, and map its pathway across the country. The other half is to look at the genetic structures of the patients who get infected, trying to answer the puzzling question of why some people die and others have symptoms so mild they never even know they are sick.

Genome Canada is administering the project, with six regional genomics agencies overseeing the work locally and labs like McArthur’s doing the testing and analysis. The funding is intended to create genetic maps from 150,000 patients. Canada thus far has had about 108,000 positive cases, and the expectation is that almost every one of them will be gene-mapped.

The results will be loaded into a global site comparing all known infections of COVID-19, but also be analyzed for national and regional reports.

In New York, genetic sequencing was used to figure out that COVID-19 in Manhattan wasn’t coming from China and Iran as imagined, but from Europe. In Canada, it is suspected that much of the virus came into this country from travellers returning from the United States in early March. But the work is only now beginning to confirm that belief.

McArthur estimates the first data will be available for Ontario in about four weeks, but warns it will take many more months to complete all of the tests. His lab sequenced 600 samples on Wednesday alone.

Overall, McArthur expects the genetics project to last for two years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2020.

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Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada



By Canadian Press

Jul 12, 2020

OTTAWA — Canada’s public health experts have been racing to stop the spread of COVID-19 by trying to figure out how everyone is getting it, and whom they might have given it to.

But even the best efforts over the last four months have left doctors stymied about the source of more than one-third of this country’s known COVID-19 infections.

Now, medical researchers are using supercomputers to turn genetics labs into detective agencies and starting the work to figure out how almost every case in Canada arose.

Andrew McArthur, director of the biomedical discovery and commercialization program at McMaster University, says his group will make a big push over the next month to compare the genetic material from versions of novel coronavirus isolated from blood samples of thousands of Canadians.

Source:- Nanaimo News NOW

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