A growing number of authorities including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now urging people to wear homemade face coverings in public as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
The new recommendations have left some people confused, as global supplies of medical masks are running short and the World Health Organization has long argued they should be reserved for sick people and those caring for them.
The WHO also says there is no evidence that wearing a mask in public can prevent healthy people from contracting respiratory infections including COVID-19. Only respirators that filter much smaller airborne particles – known as N95, FFP2 or FFP3 masks – can get in the way of the new coronavirus.
But a number of national health bodies and experts contend that many people found to be infected with COVID-19 don’t carry any symptoms – and that face coverings could prevent them from unknowingly spreading respiratory droplets onto their surroundings when they sneeze, cough or splutter.
"The logic is not necessarily to protect yourself, but to protect others in case you’re unknowingly carrying the virus," Euronews reporter Ryan Thompson explains.
In its latest guidance, published on Monday, the WHO said having healthy people wear masks when in contact with other people "may be beneficial as a preventive measure" – though the underlying evidence is so far limited.
In other words: makeshift masks may be better than nothing, but they’re no miracle solution. They cannot and must not replace regular handwashing and social distancing measures in curbing the spread of the new coronavirus. You should also keep trying at all times to cough or sneeze into your elbow or a disposable tissue, to keep your germs to yourself.
Okay, so how do I get my face mask?
You’re unlikely to find a face mask at your pharmacy or grocery store these days, as supplies are very tight and governments around the world are scrambling – and in some cases fighting – to get hold of some.
But there are plenty of tutorials online to make your own face covering.
At the very least, you can use a scarf to cover your mouth and nose. But to hold your mask in place, it’s better to attach it around your head, using elastic bands, a hair scrunchie, a piece of string or even shoelaces – as you can see in our reporter’s demo in the player above.
The things to keep in mind:
Make sure your face mask covers both your nose and mouth and is as snug as possible
Avoid touching your face and do not touch the front of the mask when removing it
Wash or disinfect your hands before and immediately after handling your mask
Your mask should only be used once and washed at a high temperature (60°C or more) after use
Remember, whether or not you wear a mask: stay safe, stay at home and wash your hands.