Please Do Not Make a DIY Surgical Mask During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Paul Kita Men’s Health March 4, 2020

The surgical mask has come to symbolize the fears surrounding COVID-19.

You probably saw pictures of people wearing the masks everywhere after reports of the rapid spread of the coronavirus emerged from China in January.

Then you heard of medical mask shortages—at pharmacies and via online retailers.

Now, likely due to those continued shortages, people have begun making their own surgical masks at home.

Some of these masks are made of paper towels and rubber bands (really). Some of them require fabric, toilet paper, and tailor (really).

Is Making Your Own Surgical Mask Is a Good Idea?

Photo credit: Yulia Naumenko
Photo credit: Yulia Naumenko

“I do not believe that homemade masks are a prudent endeavor for people to engage in,” says Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

A homemade mask would “not very protective and may paradoxically increase the risk of infection if people touch their face and have a false sense of security,” Adalja says.

But Isn’t Something Better Than Nothing?

As previously reported by Men’s Health, the Centers for Disease Control doesn’t recommend masks “outside of workplace settings (in the community).” That’s largely because COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that transmits person-to-person in distances within six feet.

What’s more, the fabric medical mask shown in many of the DIY instructional guides isn’t even the type that’s been proven effective, according to the CDC.

The type of mask that is effective for drastically reducing exposure to airborne particles is called a N-95 respirator, which needs to fit properly to your face.

Without a sealed fit, even the effect N-95 respirator, much like homemade medical masks, may actually increase your risk of infection.

In short, do not turn to DIY medical masks in a shortage—or ever.