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Can homemade cloth masks give adequate protection when one is exposed to Covid-19 virus?

Claim: A Twitter user @ Soko27 claimed that homemade cloth masks don’t give adequate protection when exposed to viruses. The user added that everyone must use a surgical mask or one which is scientifically proven to filter viruses upon exposure.

Verdict: True

A study conducted by Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), titled ‘Effectiveness of cloth masks for protection against severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2’  revealed that risk of infection was higher for those wearing cloth masks.

“In 2015, we conducted a randomized controlled trial to compare the efficacy of cloth masks with that of medical masks and controls (standard practice) among healthcare workers in Vietnam, Rates of infection were consistently higher among those in the cloth mask group than in the medical mask and control groups. This finding suggests that risk for infection was higher for those wearing cloth masks,” said CDC.

The findings also revealed that the filtration effectiveness of cloth masks is lower and depends on many factors.

“We also examined the filtration ability of cloth masks by reviewing 19 studies. We found that the filtration effectiveness of cloth masks is generally lower than that of medical masks and respirators. The filtration effectiveness of cloth masks depends on many factors, such as thread count, number of layers, type of fabric and water resistance.

“During a pandemic, cloth masks may be the only option available, however, they should be used as a last resort when medical masks and respirators are not available. Protection is affected by proper mask use as well as by selection of fabric and design of the masks for water resistance, filtration and fit,” said CDC.

Contacted for a comment, United Bulawayo Hospital (UBH) clinical director, Dr Narcisious Dzwanga said the principle of wearing masks is to protect each other from contracting the virus.

“The whole world is saying wear a mask, whether it works or doesn’t, they are saying protect me and I protect you that is the principle, we never said it’s a cure for Covid-19,” said Dr Dzwanga.

“You think everyone can buy a surgical mask, an N-95 mask, you think this is a reality, the principle is to protect me by wearing a mask and I protect you by wearing a mask whether it does 99 percent or 70 percent,” he says.

Dr Dzwanga said a cloth mask is recommended in areas of low risks.

“It is internationally known that not all masks are 100 percent protective that is why they are different, there is a surgical mask, there are N-95 and cloth mask, they do different things at different levels, you will never see me operating on a  patient wearing a cloth mask.

“Every level of procedure has a different level of a mask, you are at home. A cloth mask is good enough because there are no risks,” he said.

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