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New Mask Guidelines: Trump Tells Americans To Make Their Own Out Of Cloth

US health authorities have changed their positions on masks, reflecting concern over an alarming rate of infection spread by people with no symptoms.

President Donald Trump told reporters about the Centre For Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) policy shift on Friday afternoon.

"The CDC is advising the use of non-medical cloth faced covering as an additional voluntary health measure," he said stressing that the measure was voluntary.

"You don't have to do it. They suggest it for a period of time, but this is voluntary. I don't think I'm going to be doing it, but there is a lot of ways that you could look at it," Trump said.

The CDC is now recommending Americans wear a face mask from fabric cloth.

"They can be purchased online or made at home. These face coverings can be easily washed or reused," he said.

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The new guidelines encourage people to use more rudimentary covering like T-shirts, bandannas and non-medical masks.

"If people wanted to use scarves - which they have, many people have them - they can. In many cases, the scarf is better, it's thicker," Trump said.

"Depending on the material, it's thicker."

Public health officials continue to stress, however, that medical-grade masks and surgical masks should be saved for front-line health workers, who are in desperate need of protective gear.

Trump reminded Americans that the new mask guidelines don't replace the government's guidance on social distancing including washing hands, staying in your home when possible and standing at least one and a half metres apart.

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In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would use his authority to seize ventilators and protective gear from private hospitals and companies that aren't using them.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) remains fixed in its position that if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with a suspected coronavirus infection.

Research has found that cloth masks are not effective for health care workers and data on the effectiveness of cloth masks worn by the general public is limited.

"Wrapping cloth around your face probably will not protect you. That’s because a scarf or a hanky does not provide a tight fit around the face, isn’t designed to filter out air and may be contaminated," Australian public health experts have warned. 

Image: AAP

Yet a 2013 study examined homemade masks as an alternative to commercial face masks during an influenza pandemic concluded wearing a mask was better than doing nothing.

"Our findings suggest that a homemade mask should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals, but it would be better than no protection," the authors said. 

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In 2014 during the Ebola epidemic, a woman nursed her entire family through the illness using home-made protective equipment and did not get infected.

There are also concerns that people wearing masks get a false sense of security and use them incorrectly.

The WHO has issued the following recommendations when wearing a mask.

  • Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
  • Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks.
  • To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au