‘Better to stay home than rely on home-made mask’

Many people have resorted to making their own face masks due to the acute shortage of surgical masks in shops.

THE current shortage of surgical masks to use as protection against Covid-19 has prompted some people to sew their own using different types of cloth.

Housewife Nora Ali, 60, whose favourite hobby is quilting, said she used scrap cotton cloth to make the masks for her and her husband.

She designed her own three-ply cloth mask that included a layer of interfacing fabric,

usually used as interconstruction material that lies between different layers of fabrics to strengthen it.

“We cannot find (commercial) surgical masks anywhere now and pharmacies claim they are all out of stock.

“I feel my DIY mask is better than nothing when I need to go out to buy essential groceries during the movement control order.

“It is still some form of protection against people who cough or sneeze.

“The ones I made are washable and the interfacing fabric layer inside is waterproof, ” said Nora, who lives in Kuala Lumpur.

Desperate times call for desperate measures as some have also resorted to fashioning airline sleep masks into face masks.

Retiree Angie Teng said she managed to dig up fabric sleep masks given out by airlines she had kept from all her travels.

“That added layer between the outside air and my mouth and nose gives me a little assurance, although I know it is not much, ” she said.

However, Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society president Amrahi Buang has debunked the efficacy of home-made face masks, saying that it might do more harm than good because of the lack of anti-bacterial filters in cloth masks.

The former chief pharmacist of Universiti Malaya Medical Centre concurred with the advice from Health Ministry that there was no need to wear a face mask outdoors if a person was healthy.

“Anyone we meet outside in this current scenario is considered a risk, which is why the social distancing is very important (standing at least one metre apart from another person).

“If there is no important reason to leave your home, just stay put.

“More importantly, commercial three-ply surgical masks are designed and structured to fit our face and serve as a barrier from droplets in the air, but these still do not protect us from viruses, ” he said.

He conceded that the public must wear commercial surgical masks if there was a real need.

Amrahi advised people to adhere to strict hygiene standards upon returning home after being in a public place such as supermarkets.

“When you reach home, wipe down your shopping bags and surfaces you touched with water and soap or spray with sanitiser before you enter the house.

“Face masks should be disposed of in a small plastic bag and then thrown into a closed wastebasket.

“It is best to take a shower or thoroughly wash your hands (for 20 seconds) before you touch or interact with people at home, ” he highlighted.

He said a bigger danger was people who were sneezing or coughing and going outside wearing home-made face masks.

“They will endanger themselves and people around them because of the droplets they expel into the air, ” he explained.

On the different type of masks in the market, such as the ones that come with ear loops and the other with strings that are tied behind the head, Amrahi said they had similar functions.

It was concluded in a research paper titled “Testing the Efficacy of Homemade Masks: Would They Protect Against an Influenza Pandemic” by public health and science experts from University of Cambridge, that home-made masks should only be used as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals, but would still be better than no protection.

The research paper highlighted that a surgical mask was three times more effective in blocking transmission than home-made masks.

The three-ply disposable surgical mask comprised a non-woven polypropylene (PP) as the first layer that is anti-bacterial and isolates particles, followed by a high-filtering performance paper in the second layer and the third layer made of breathable non-woven PP.

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