State Health Officer: Handmade masks are “not recommended”

Updated: Mar. 25, 2020 at 8:12 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - As hospitals and medical providers across the country are dealing with shortages of protective gear, people are pulling out their sewing machines and getting to work making masks.

Some hospitals, like Owensboro Health in Kentucky, have posted sewing patterns on its website for volunteers to follow.

But Alabama’s State Health Officer said, “In spite of all the pictures you see all over the world of people using these masks, there is no evidence these masks are effective, and we would not recommend people use them.”

Dr. Scott Harris said in a news conference Monday that the fabric masks are not recommended for healthcare providers, or even healthy people.

“There is no reason to think those [masks will] protect those from a case of COVID-19, which can be transmitted through the airborne route. Only N-95 respirators are effective for preventing infection through the air-borne route,” said Dr. Harris.

He said the only appropriate use might be for those infected with the virus.

“[If] a person [is] known to be infected and who is coughing, and is being transported and in public, then a mask will protect against splashes, droplets, and so that mask can be used on a person known to have the infection.”

Dr. Don Williamson, President, Alabama Association of Hospitals, said he is sharing advice with hospitals in the state that reflects Dr. Harris’ opinion.

UAB is now allowing employees to wear masks brought in from home, but they have to be commercially made, according to a spokesman.

In light of the national PPE shortage, we are allowing expanded options to help protect our staff and our patients. At this time, this DOES NOT include homemade masks or homemade products that are not commercially manufactured. We ARE accepting commercially manufactured, new, unopened equipment — as is the Jefferson County Department of Health. Please contact the JCDH Coordination Center at 205-254-2550 Monday – Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for questions regarding donations. Donations on UAB’s campus can be made Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. at 801 5th Avenue South.

UAB has told employees that they may wear commercially produced masks brought in from home. They also will be allowed to wear a commercially manufactured cloth mask, but if so, it must be washed and dried daily.

The Jefferson County Healthcare Coalition, which is collecting donations for area hospitals, is not accepting handmade masks at this time.

A spokesperson for Ascension Alabama, which manages St. Vincent’s Birmingham, said it cannot accept donations that are handmade.

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