Face masks DON'T stop healthy people catching coronavirus, WHO says

Face masks DO NOT stop healthy people from catching coronavirus and should only be worn by healthcare workers and patients, says WHO

  • The United Nations’ health body was forced to review new evidence on masks
  • But WHO maintains public should not wear them outside as there’s ‘still no proof’
  • Masks only useful for healthcare workers and patients who test positive, it claims

Face masks do not stop people from catching coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) in light of recent studies suggesting the opposite.

The United Nations’ health body was forced to review new evidence from Hong Kong claiming mass-issuing masks may have helped contain the pandemic.

But the WHO maintains the public should not wear them outside because there is still no proof they prevent infection, it says.

In updated guidance published on Monday, the health body said masks were only useful for healthcare workers and patients who test positive. 

The advice is in stark contrast to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which urges all Americans to wear them. 

The CDC has even went one step further and advised people use makeshift masks out of scarves when travelling on public transport or in supermarkets. 

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock still insists ‘well’ Britons do not need to wear masks because evidence on them being useless had been ‘very clear from the start’.

Scientists are split on the effectiveness of masks, with some claiming they could prevent asymptotic patients from spreading the disease before they know they’re ill.

Others say surgical face masks – the most popular kind – are too thin, loose-fitting and porous, which make it easy for the tiny viral particles to pass through.

The UK Government has long held the view that the cheap paper masks offer little protection against catching COVID-19. A passenger on the London Underground wears one last month

Other have resorted to crafting masks out of household items. A man is seen using a nappy as a makeshift face mask in Brooklyn, New York City

South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong have issued millions of masks to their people and managed to prevent full-scale outbreaks, despite being in such close proximity to China. Critics say masks don’t work because China still suffered more than 80,000 cases

The WHO acknowledged the virus can be transmitted by people who do not have symptoms, but said it must still spread via droplets which can pass through the masks’ big filters, or on contaminated surfaces.

According to its new advice, people with symptoms should wear a face mask, self-isolate and call for an ambulance. 

Only those caring for someone in close proximity should wear a mask, the WHO says.  

It comes after British scientists said elderly and vulnerable people should wear face masks because it could protect them from catching the deadly bug,

A review of the scientific literature by the University of East Anglia found the masks have a ‘small protective effect’ that could shield them from contracting the virus in crowded places. 

The researchers advise vulnerable people wear one on public transport, at the supermarket or in hospitals.

But they say the evidence is not strong enough to recommend widespread use of masks in the general population.  

South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong have issued millions of masks to the public and, thanks to strict public health measures, managed to prevent large outbreaks, despite being in such close proximity to China. 

George Gao, director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, this week said the ‘big mistake’ in the US and Europe was that ‘people aren’t wearing masks’. 

The president urged Americans not to wear medical-grade masks and instead could make masks from fabric at home 

How to make your own coronavirus face mask: Online DIY tutorials detail method for vacuum cleaner bag or T-shirt to create protection that leading scientists say is effective against bug

THE TRUTH ABOUT FACE MASKS: WHAT STUDIES HAVE SHOWN

Research on how well various types of masks and face coverings varies but, recently, and in light of the pandemic of COVID-19, experts are increasingly leaning toward the notion that something is better than nothing. 

A University of Oxford study published on March 30 concluded that surgical masks are just as effective at preventing respiratory infections as N95 masks for doctors, nurses and other health care workers. 

It’s too early for their to be reliable data on how well they prevent infection with COVID-19, but the study found the thinner, cheaper masks do work in flu outbreaks. 

The difference between surgical or face masks and N95 masks lies in the size of particles that can – and more importantly, can’t – get though the materials. 

N95 respirators are made of thick, tightly woven and molded material that fits tightly over the face and can stop 95 percent of all airborne particles, while surgical masks are thinner, fit more loosely, and more porous. 

This makes surgical masks much more comfortable to breathe and work in, but less effective at stopping small particles from entering your mouth and nose. 

Droplets of saliva and mucous from coughs and sneezes are very small, and viral particles themselves are particularly tiny – in fact, they’re about 20-times smaller than bacteria. 

For this reason, a JAMA study published this month still contended that people without symptoms should not wear surgical masks, because there is not proof the gear will protect them from infection – although they may keep people who are coughing and sneezing from infecting others. 

But the Oxford analysis of past studies- which has not yet been peer reviewed – found that surgical masks were worth wearing and didn’t provide statistically less protection than N95 for health care workers around flu patients. 

However, any face mask is only as good as other health and hygiene practices. Experts universally agree that there’s simply no replacement for thorough, frequent hand-washing for preventing disease transmission. 

Some think the masks may also help to ‘train’ people not to touch their faces, while others argue that the unfamiliar garment will just make people do it more, actually raising infection risks.  

If the CDC does instruct Americans to wear masks, it could create a second issue: Hospitals already face shortages of masks and other PPE.

He told Science magazine: ‘This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role – you’ve got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth.

‘Many people have asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.’ 

It comes after elderly and vulnerable people should wear face masks in public to prevent them from catching coronavirus, British scientists say.   

The coronavirus is thought only to spread through close contact with others – defined as being within 6’6″ (2m) of someone.

But a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston found that infected patients can create a cloud of virus particles around them with coughs and sneezes.

This can stretch out up to 27ft (8m) and could carry enough of the virus to infect someone, the researchers said.

Droplets from people’s lungs could also linger in the air and be blown about, they added.

The study – from one of the US’s most prestigious universities and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) – was done in lab conditions rather than the real world.

But it could change the way health authorities look at protective equipment like masks, which are currently being stockpiled for health workers.

In France, for example, the government banned wholesalers from selling masks to the public so it could save them for medical staff.

Although scientists say the vast majority of masks do not have fine enough filters to stop viruses getting through, there is a growing school of thought that they could be useful.

Even if they don’t stop viruses in their tracks they could redirect air flow which might be carrying them into people’s mouths or noses.

A smaller initial dose of the virus has been linked to less severe symptoms in some coronavirus patients. 

Professor Ian Jones, a virologist from the University of Reading, said the mass-issuing of masks ‘should now be considered’ in the UK.

Warning that the crisis is spiralling rapidly, he told MailOnline: ‘Anything that reduces the rate of transmission will bring it under control sooner.’

Professor Jones told MailOnline: ‘For me it’s very simple, the epidemic is currently running [rampant] and anything that reduces the rate of transmission will bring it under control sooner.

‘On the basis that correct mask use would do no harm and potentially some good it should be considered.’

Not all masks are created equal: Single-use masks and surgical masks have larger pores which the coronavirus can easily slip through. A more expensive N95 mask is the gold standard for healthcare workers fighting infectious diseases

Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor of infection and immunity at the University of Leeds, said masks prevent people with no symptoms spreading the disease by catching tiny droplets they exhale.

He added: ‘They are also useful for people that are themselves symptomatic in stopping coughs and sneezes.

‘They also reduce the propensity for people to touch their faces, which happens many more times a day than we all realise and is a major source of infection without proper hand hygiene.’ 

How to make your own coronavirus face mask: Online DIY tutorials detail method for vacuum cleaner bag or T-shirt to create protection that leading scientists say is effective against bug 

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has led to a shortage of protective face masks, leading to a deluge of online tutorials ion how to make your own using a t-shirt or pillowcase.

Homemade masks offer significantly less protection than the N95 medical masks, which are made of a thick, tightly woven material that fits over the face and can stop 95 per cent of all airborne particles. 

Public Health England still does not recommend Britons wear face masks, unless in a medical setting. 

But there are good reasons to think DIY masks could be effective in tackling the pandemic, as they have been widely used in Hong Kong,Mongolia and South Korea -countries that largely have the disease under control.

The World Health Organisation also currently does not recommend that people without the illness wear face masks, but it could be about to reverse its decision due to evidence from Hong Kong that they may be effective in fighting the virus.

And in a further sign that attitudes about masks are changing, LA’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, yesterday told all four million of the city’s residents that they must wear face masks at all times to slow the spread of the deadly pandemic. 

MailOnline has investigated how you can make your own face mask using everyday household items such as a t-shirt, kitchen towel or vacuum bags. 

How to make a face mask from a t-shirt

A YouTube tutorial by Runa Ray shows how to make a face mask without any need for sewing, using just a plain t-shirt. 

First of all you need scissors, pencil and a ruler, and a t-shirt you don’t mind being used to make a face mask. 

Cut out a 16′ by 4′ rectangle from the middle of the t-shirt, then fold it in half, and measure four inches on either side.

Then mark the t-shirt with an even number of tassels on each side and use scissors to cut them.

Turn the t-shirt inside out and separate the corner tassels, but tie the remaining ones in-between.

Then with the remaining t-shirt material cut some ear straps using the hem of the shirt. 

Attach the straps to the remaining outer tassels and you have yourself a face mask, with no sewing involved, and using an old t-shirt.

A slightly more complicated method has been perfected by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh  also managed to design a face mask that could be used if ‘commercial masks’ are not available during a virus outbreak.

A woman wearing a mask walks past a closed shop window display during the pandemic lockdown in Manchester

They used a regular cotton t-shirt, which was boiled for 10 minutes and then air-dried to sterilise the material, but also to shrink it.

The researchers used a marker and ruler to measure out what they wanted to cut and then formed the mask using an outer layer and then eight inner layers covering the nose and mouth.

The mask does not require any sewing, and instead involves it being tied multiple time around the face. 

How to make a face mask from vacuum cleaner bags 

By following the simple steps in the graphic, you can create your own face mask from a T-Shirt or vacuum cleaner bag, 

Even UK politicians have got in on the act,  with Gillian Martin, who is MSP for Aberdeenshire East, describing how she made a face mask from vacuum cleaner bags and elastic. 

She told the Daily Record: ‘I live in a small village and have been here for over 20 years. I don’t want to worry or offend people when I go out.

‘I started researching what other countries have been doing and came across a chart with the best materials to use to make a mask out of just about anything.’

‘Just below medical material was a hoover bag. I have loads of them lying around and found Hepa-Flow bag that just goes on your Henry hoover’. 

The chart the MSP is referring to from a University of Cambridge study which shows the materials that work the best against virus sized particles.

The top three are a surgical mask, vacuum cleaner bag and tea towel.

She added: ‘I cut it up the bag and secured it with elastic. I live with my family of three who have all been self-isolating so I made one for each of us’.

Gillian Martin posted about her mask that she made from a vacuum cleaning bag

‘I made it because I’m nervous of people coming up to me when I’m out walking the dog. I don’t want to have to run away from them.’

Another popular YouTube method shows how to fold up a scarf, using hair ties at either end, to make a simple and easy no-sew mask. The same method can be used with a handkerchief and doesn’t involve any sewing.  

How to make a face mask from kitchen towel

For this you need two layers of kitchen towel and one of tissue.

You cut it in half, and then use masking tape on each end to ensure the mask is stiff.

Then you punch holes through either end of the mask and thread elastic bands through the holes. 

Some Japanese women have even been posting instructions about how to make a face mask from a bra.

The method is simple and involves cutting off one cup with scissors and then sewing the bra straps on, so they can be attached to your face.

Do masks have to be complex to be effective?

The idea that masks do not have to be complex to be effective does have some support from recently published studies. 

A University of Oxford study published this week concluded that surgical masks are just as effective at preventing respiratory infections as N95 masks for doctors, nurses and other health care workers.

It’s too early for there to be reliable data on how well they prevent infection with COVID-19, but the study found the thinner, cheaper masks do work in flu outbreaks.

Two elderly women wearing protective face masks walk in Westminster on Wednesday

The difference between surgical or face masks and N95 masks lies in the size of particles that can – and more importantly, can’t – get though the materials.

N95 respirators are made of thick, tightly woven and molded material that fits tightly over the face and can stop 95 percent of all airborne particles, while surgical masks are thinner, fit more loosely, and more porous.

This makes surgical masks much more comfortable to breathe and work in, but less effective at stopping small particles from entering your mouth and nose.

Droplets of saliva and mucous from coughs and sneezes are very small, and viral particles themselves are particularly tiny – in fact, they’re about 20-times smaller than bacteria.  

 

IF YOU CAN’T GET A MASK, SHOULD YOU MAKE ONE?

Experts in the US have suggested home-made masks could be a powerful defence against the coronavirus if there is a shortage of masks.  

‘Homemade masks theoretically could offer some protection if the materials and fit were optimized, but this is uncertain,’ Dr Jeffrey Duchin, a Seattle health official told the Washington Post. 

A 2013 study found that next to a surgical mask, a vacuum cleaner bag provided the best material for a homemade mask. 

After a vacuum bag, kitchen towels were fairly protective, but uncomfortable. Masks made of T-shirts were very tolerable, but only worked a third as well as surgical mask. The Cambridge University researchers concluded that homemade masks should only be used ‘as a last resort.’  

Public Health England still does not recommend Britons wear face masks, unless they are infected themselves.

The health body also does not advise people use items of clothing as makeshifts masks, because they it claims they offer practically no protection.  

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