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Here's how much your homemade mask may protect you

Research shows how much protection as masks give you against pathogens based on the material they are made of.

WASHINGTON — It has become the new norm. People walking around grocery stores with surgical masks, a scarf, piece of cloth or anything they can find to cover their nose and mouth. All in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reversed its recommendation on mask wearing and now advises that people wear a mask when leaving the home. 

Material Matters

Research and experts suggest that there are different levels of protection for homemade masks based on the materials that are used. 

RELATED: Homemade hospital masks 'possibly putting other patients at risk'

In a commentary, experts at the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy stated:

"Masks and respirators work by collecting particles through several physical mechanisms, including diffusion (small particles) and interception and impaction (large particles).

Authors of the commentary, Dr. Lisa Brosseau and Dr. Margaret Sietsema, noted that N95 filtering facepiece respirators or (FFRs) are made with electret filter material. The materials also feature electrostatic attraction for additional collection of particles. 

Some filters can filter out particles at 0.3 micrometers, while others can keep out particles as small as 0.06 to 0.1 micrometers. 

In a study published in the Annals of Occupational  Hygiene, researchers examined filtration on items such as T-shirts, towels, scarfs, and woven cloth masks that are used to filter out allergens and pollutants. 

The results showed that T-shirts had 10 percent efficiency, scarves 10 to 20 percent, cloth masks 10 to 30 percent, sweatshirts 20 to 40 percent, and towels 40 percent. The N95 mask had a 95 percent or greater efficiency. 

Experts found that all of the cloth masks and materials had near zero efficiency at 0.3 micrometers.  Doctors said a particle that small could easily penetrate into the lungs.

Doctors Brosseau and Sietsema wrote that most medical masks have a 30 to 50 percent efficiency, but noted that some offered less protection. The doctors expressed concern that broad mask use may cause some people to have a false sense of protection and not practice social distancing as much. 

RELATED: Here's how to make your own face mask if you don't have a sewing machine

"Something Is Better Than Nothing"

In another study published online by the Cambridge University Press, the authors did a study to determine if homemade mask could help slow the spread of influenza, should a pandemic occur. The authors concluded that surgical masks offered more protection than a mask made of T-shirt material. In the results, the authors wrote:

"Both masks significantly reduced the number of microorganisms expelled by volunteers, although the surgical mask was 3 times more effective in blocking transmission than the homemade mask."

 In the conclusion section of the study the researchers stated:

"Our findings suggest that a homemade mask should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals, but it would be better than no protection."

Experts recommend that even with a mask, it is still important to practice social distancing, proper hand-washing or hand sanitizer to slowdown the spread of COVID-19.

RELATED: Don't let DIY and nonmedical masks give you a false sense of security, experts say

RELATED: How to make your own face mask without a sewing machine

Not In A Hospital

Some experts warned that homemade mask could even be harmful, especially in a hospital setting.

“Particularly with cotton masks, they might be harmful, because they may have condensation and moisture that would transfer from patient to patient, possibly putting other patients at risk," said Christopher R. Friese, Hosmer Professor of Nursing, Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan. 

Why N95 Masks Must Fit

N95 masks must be fit or it simply will not work.   The U.S. Department of Labor has guidelines for the fit test. A person gets fit tested by putting on the mask. An aerosol is then released. The aresol may be bitter tasting or taste like something sweet such as bananas. Sometimes an irritant like smoke can be used. If the person can taste the aerosol, the mask is not sufficiently sealed and is not protecting at the maximum level.

WUSA 9 does not promote or advise on which type of mask or covering a person should use. 

RELATED: Improper disposal of wipes, gloves spark health, environmental concerns

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