By Rene’ A. Daguerre-Bradford and Allen Bradford
Some coronavirus protective measures are better than others. In fact, some face masks are downright dangerous! Well-meaning recent Facebook posters and other online commenters have touted knitted face masks, shown photos of toddlers cutely adorned with masks, and suggested use of vacuum cleaner bags as facemask filters. AAAGH! These “protections” may be worse than the disease we’re trying to prevent! Herewith, some major facemask “DON’Ts”:
DON’T USE VACUUM CLEANER AND HVAC FILTERS THAT MAY CONTAIN DANGEROUS MATERIALS!! Vacuum cleaner filters and HVAC filters may contain hazardous materials. For example, per ABC News, “Shop-Vac, a leading wet/dry vacuum maker, has posted a statement on its website saying its HEPA vacuum bags ‘are in no way designed or intended to protect humans from bacteria, viruses or other pathogens,’ and cautioning that ‘direct contact or coverage of the human mouth or nose with the filter materials are strictly forbidden for any purpose.’” Why would that be? Because “most HEPA filters are composed of microscopic glass fibers, which can be harmful to the lungs if inhaled.” There may be similar risks with HVAC filters.
So if you plan on using them as or in face masks, find out if the vacuum cleaner bag or HVAC filter is suitable (and most don’t appear to be). Such information may be available on the manufacturer website.
DON’T USE MASKS ON CHILDREN UNDER AGE 2!! Per the CDC: “Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.” Not being able to breathe: worse than COVID-19!
KNITTED MASKS: PRETTY, MAYBE, BUT NOT VERY USEFUL! Knitted masks give almost NO protection. CDC guidance has been clear about the preferred material for DIY face masks: “tightly woven…cotton fabric” made from “household materials.” And, per NBC News, the chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina advises: “You do want to use a woven fabric, like batik, but you don't want to use a knit fabric, because the holes between the knit stitches are bigger."
DON’T RELY ON HOMEMADE FACEMASKS TO KEEP YOU SAFE! Properly knitted DIY knitted face masks may provide some protection if you’re sneezed on, are wearing it properly and strictly avoid touching the surface of the mask thereafter (per this link: Coronavirus FAQs). But only surgical facemasks will really protect the wearer, and only N95 respirators are proven protection against COVID-19. Homemade facemasks provide marginal protection at best from COVID-19. So why wear them at all? Because, says the CDC, they protect others from your saliva in case you’re a carrier.
TO PROTECT YOURSELF, THE BEST COURSES ARE TO SHELTER IN PLACE, STAY AT LEAST 6 FEET AWAY FROM OTHERS AND WASH, WASH, WASH YOUR HANDS!!! As one article recently pointed out: Behavioral economists know that when people begin to feel safe, they take more risks. … Masks do make us feel safer, but any benefit of wearing a mask will be quickly negated if we lose our resolve about social distancing and hand washing. Don’t start lingering in grocery stores or spending time with friends because you are wearing a mask. A mask alone will not protect you from the coronavirus.”