Debate over homemade masks intensifies in wake of COVID-19 pandemic

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      Four days ago, Science published an article offering differing views on the wisdom of wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

      One of the people interviewed, K.K. Cheng, a public-health expert at the University of Birmingham, insisted that masks are "a perfectly good public health intervention that's not used".

      That's because masks can prevent infected people from spreading the novel coronavirus.

      An epidemiologist, Benjamin Cowling of the University of Hong Kong, is also firmly in the camp of wearing masks, telling Science that the N95 model has prevented respiratory infections in health-care workers.

      However, another epidemiologist, the University of Michigan's Arnold Monto, stated that standard surgical face masks only "have a modest effect" on the transmission of disease spread by larger droplets.

      Meanwhile, in the Czech Republic, officials have ordered people to cover their nose and mouth in public to reduce transmission of COVID-19. 

      All of this has left some Canadians feeling confused.

      That's because public health officials in Canada have maintained that wearing a mask in public can actually elevate the risk of transmission because it makes people more likely to touch their face. They say it's more important not to touch your face and keep washing your hands.

      Nobody is suggesting that masks should be a substitute for social distancing and frequent hand-washing.

      With that in mind, there are do-it-yourself alternatives for those who want to wear a mask but can't find them in drugstores.

      The peer-reviewed journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness published a study in 2013 examining homemade face masks as an alternative to commercially available products in blocking bacterial and viral aerosols.

      Researchers recruited 21 healthy volunteers who created masks from cotton T-shirts. The study found that surgical masks were three times more effective than homemade varieties.

      However, the study found that homemade masks were still better than having no protection.

      The household materials most effective against one-micron particles are, in order, a vacuum cleaner bag, dish towel, cotton blend, and 100 percent cotton T-shirt. Next would be an antimicrobial pillowcase, followed by a scarf. 

      Pillow cases, linen, and silk ranked at the bottom of the list.

      Surgical masks available on Amazon

      Here are five masks that Amazon is advertising. (The Straight cannot authenticate their efficacy in preventing the transmission of the novel coronavirus.)

      Dukal DUK 900610 Reflections Spa Face Mask, Earloop, Pleated, Blue, 3-Ply (Pack of 100): $34.80, plus $6.74 shipping
      50Pcs Disposable 3-Layer Masks, Anti Dust Breathable Disposable Earloop Mouth Face Mask, Comfortable Medical Sanitary Surgical Mask Blue: $14.99
      Disposable Face Masks with Elastic Earloop, 3 Ply Breathable and Comfortable Disposable Elastic Ear Loop for Blocking Dust Air Pollution Protection and Personal Health: from $28.99
      Clean Disposable Face Mask - 50 PCS - 3 Soft Layers In Each Mask - Disposable Mask with Earloops for Salon, Home Use: $18.99 + $0.20 shipping
      Disposable 30 PCS Filter 3-ply Face Mask Personal Protection Dust-Proof Anti Spittle Eye Mask for Earloop: $11.89 + $0.17 shipping