The CDC has reversed its recommendations about using face masks as the coronavirus pandemic develops. Here’s what that means.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its stance on wearing face masks on Friday, including cloth face coverings sewn at home. Its new guideline recommends that people wear cloth coverings in public — in addition to taking measures like social distancing — as a “voluntary public health measure.”

In the CDC’s words, “CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission (emphasis theirs).”

The CDC says not to seek out medical or surgical-grade masks for yourself and to leave N95 masks to health care workers, opting instead for basic cloth or fabric coverings that can be washed and reused. The institute also stressed that its new guidelines should be followed along with earlier precautions, like self-quarantine at home, frequently and thoroughly washing your hands and practicing appropriate social distancing. Previously, the agency considered homemade face masks to be used as a last resort in hospitals and medical facilities.

The CDC is the US authority on coronavirus protocols and protection to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Before Friday’s nationwide recommendation, New York City and Los Angeles already advocated the use of face coverings in public. “We’re advising New Yorkers to wear a face covering when you go outside and will be near other people,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a public address earlier this week.

For weeks, the debate escalated over whether homemade face masks should be used in hospital settings and also by individuals in public. It comes at a time when available stock of certified N95 respirator masks — the essential protective equipment used by health care workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic — has reached critical lows.

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.

In a medical setting, handmade masks aren’t scientifically proven to be as effective at protecting you from the coronavirus. Why not? The answer comes down to the way N95 masks are made, certified and worn. It may not matter if care centers are forced to take a “better than nothing” approach.

Here’s everything you need to know about the difference between homemade face masks and N95 respirator masks.

N95 masks vs. other masks: Facial fit and 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. Coronaviruses 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 patients’ 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 from manufacturer 3M shows some of the key differences between standard surgical masks and N95 masks. Homemade masks are unregulated, though some hospital websites point to preferred patterns that they suggest using.

Source: CNET
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