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Coronavirus: Saskatchewan microbiologist warns homemade masks can be ineffective

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WATCH: A Saskatoon seamstress says she's overwhelmed with requests for homemade masks, but an expert warns they may not be effective – Mar 31, 2020

A Saskatoon business owner says she’s given away hundreds of homemade masks as people try to protect themselves from COVID-19.

Seamstress Mylynh Pham said she and her husband have been overwhelmed with requests over the past week.

“I work until 2 o’clock in the morning almost every day,” Pham told Global News.

She said the time spent making the polyester and cotton-blend masks is worth it because she wants to support Saskatonians in a challenging time.

READ MORE: Should you wear a face mask? Coronavirus prompts debate over effectiveness 

“We try as much as we can to help out,” Pham said. “We’re not like the front line [workers], but … we can do something.”
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While Saskatchewan’s clinical microbiology lead applauded people for helping out during the pandemic, he said homemade masks aren’t the best tool for infection prevention.

“[Medically-issued masks] have been tested and proven that they block the particles that can get through and infect individuals,” Dr. Joseph Blondeau said.

“If other masks are being made and they’re not regulated to the same standards, then it’s unclear whether these masks are actually offering the protection that we would need.”

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Health Canada says people should be cautious when using homemade masks, as some may not protect people from the novel coronavirus.

It says they may require frequent adjustments, bringing people’s hands in contact with their face and increasing the chance of infection.

Homemade masks may also fall short when it comes to blocking virus-sized particles because of their fabric and fit, Blondeau said.

READ MORE: Demand for face masks causes concern among Canadian health-care workers

“If you look at some people that are wearing sort of surgical-type masks, it’s still possible for particles to enter through the sides because they’re not snug-fitting to the face,” he said, noting N95 masks are custom fit for health-care workers.

Other measures, such as frequent handwashing and staying at home, are more helpful, he said. He said a far better barrier against COVID-19 is physical distancing, which protects people from particles ejected by sneezing and coughing.

“Regardless of whether you have a mask or not, you still need to pay attention to these other interventions,” he said.

“If you’re using a mask as a substitute for all of the other measures that we’re recommending, then that is not appropriate.”

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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