After weeks of advising that masks were not needed for healthy individuals, the Health Ministry recently recommended “homemade face cover is a good method for maintaining personal hygiene”, and “it is suggested that such people who are not suffering from medical conditions or having breathing difficulties may use the handmade reusable face cover, particularly when they step out…”. India’s new position is similar to that of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A “manual on homemade protective cover for face and mouth”, issued by the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, said the “homemade face cover” should be of cotton cloth. “Any used cotton cloth can be used to make this face cover. The colour of the fabric does NOT matter but you must ensure that you wash the fabric well in boiling water for 5 minutes and dry it well before making the face cover. Adding salt to this water is recommended,” it said. Alternatively, the manual advisory said, “a men’s cotton handkerchief” could be used to cover the face.
The CDC, meanwhile, advises fabricating a “cloth face covering” from a T-shirt. Alternatively, it says, a bandanna (or square cotton cloth approximately 20”x20”) can be used with a coffee filter placed between its folds.
The New York Times reported that recent tests on a number of materials had found “HEPA furnace filters scored well, as did vacuum cleaner bags, layers of 600-count pillowcases and fabric similar to flannel pajamas”. “Stacked coffee filters had medium scores”, and “scarves and bandanna material had the lowest scores, but still captured a small percentage of particles”.
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The basic things to remember are that the material is cotton, is clean, and of a reasonable thickness. An explainer in The NYT quoted anaesthesiologist Dr Scott Segal: “Hold it (the cloth) up to a bright light. If light passes really easily through the fibres and you can almost see the fibres, it’s not a good fabric. If it’s a denser weave of thicker material and light doesn’t pass through it as much, that’s the material you want to use.”
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Another practical point: the fabric of your homemade mask must be dense enough to capture viral particles, but also breathable enough.
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