Homemade face masks look nice but won't prevent COVID-19, says Manitoba doctor

In the middle of a pandemic, some people are finding comfort in making homemade face masks for their friends and family, even if they aren’t helpful in preventing COVID-19 and wearing one may even be riskier than not wearing one.

Lisa Osler is Métis from Prince Albert, Sask., and has been doing beadwork for over eight years. She recently started making masks for the people she lives with.

“I thought it would be good to have in case any of us get sick or when we need to go out for groceries,” she said.

“Like everyone else, we were concerned about the virus and getting sick.”

Osler lives in a suburban neighbourhood in Calgary with two other adults and her toddler. She runs a small business where she makes Métis-inspired baby clothes with Métis sash prints and beadwork prints.

The masks take about half an hour to make and she has made five so far. She is using the same sash and beadwork print for her masks and says she makes them mostly for comfort.

“No one in my house is really wearing them yet,” said Osler.

‘Cloth masks can be riskier than doing nothing’

Public health officials in North America are discouraging people from wearing face masks, saying there is no evidence they are effective at protecting against the spread of COVID-19.

“None of those cloths that cover your face are helpful for preventing COVID-19,” said Dr. Marcia Anderson, a medical officer of health at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and is the vice dean for Indigenous Health at the Rady Faculty for Health Sciences.

“They might look nice, the kokum scarves, they might look nice and fashionable, but not to prevent COVID-19.”  

She said she is concerned about people gaining a false sense of security from masks and the possible risks that come with them.

“I think the cloth masks can be riskier than doing nothing if people aren’t doing all the things, like single use, sanitizing, not touching it, changing it when it gets moist. It becomes riskier than doing nothing at all.”

She said homemade masks can also be problematic for the general public by encouraging risky behaviour because people think that by wearing them they can go out more or be in crowded places without following recommendations like physical distancing.

You see more people wearing them in public, but will wearing a face mask really protect you from the coronavirus?    2:27

‘Peace of mind’

Bryson Syliboy from Sipekne’katik First Nation, N.S., said making the masks brings him comfort. Syliboy is immunocompromised and said he started making masks after he was laid off from his job as an aquatics co-ordinator last week.

Bryson Syliboy started making masks after he was laid off last week. (submitted by Bryson Syliboy)

“I decided to try and make one,” said Syliboy.

He also started making them for the people living in his home, and any visitors who would stop by. 

“I read some articles that people posted on Twitter about the benefits and hindrances of making homemade masks … but it’s something that gives me peace of mind during this pandemic,” said Syliboy.

Both Osler and Syliboy say they are practising physical distancing and haven’t been wearing their homemade masks out in public. 

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