The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering whether to update its guidelines on the new coronavirus to advise Americans to wear homemade masks outside of the home — not so much to protect the people wearing the mask but as another tool to limit the spread of COVID-19, The Washington Post reports. The new virus can be spread through saliva droplets emitted during a cough, sneeze, or even talking, and having a mask to capture those drops would presumably keep sick, especially asymptomatic, coronavirus carriers from spreading the disease.
The CDC currently recommends keeping six feet apart, among other social distancing practices, and washing hands frequently and thoroughly for 20 seconds. It would not recommend people use surgical or N95 masks, in short supply and great demand for doctors, nurses, and other first responders treating COVID-19 patients. Instead, people would be urged to make their own masks out of old T-shirts, sheets, and paper towels, as Jeremy Howard, a University of San Francisco research scientist and advocate for the DIY approach, explains in the video below.
Many Asian countries recommend citizens wear masks to fight the spread of the coronavirus, and the homemade masks have some prominent proponents in the U.S., including former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb; Thomas Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security; and former National Institutes of Health director Harold Varmus. Other health experts worry that encouraging mask-wearing would instill a sense of false security and make Americans more reckless, might inadvertently contaminate someone else who handles the mask, and could further deplete the personal protective equipment stockpiles needed for medical professionals.