Cloth masks, really?

By Kristina Maki, RN

Kristina Maki
MNA Nurse Educator

MNA Nurse Educator

MNA Nurse

It is surreal working as a nurse right now, right?  I am struggling to keep up with all the changes to practice; they seem to be happening daily.  Who’d have thought we’d be talking about reusing N95s, much less having to discuss using cloth masks…

I hate the ideas of cloth masks.  I know that it might come down to having to use them at some point, which makes me really angry.  Truthfully, it scares me to think that our only source of protection is a simple cloth over our faces.  Here are the facts that I’ve been able to dig up about fabric masks: THEY ARE NOT SAFE!  A randomized controlled trial found that simple cloth masks provide around 3-4% filtration (source).  The cloth masks might be even more detrimental because they can provide a user with a false sense of security.  There are a lot of infection control issues.  For instance, what if your mask is made with the same fabric on the front and back- how will you know which side is dirty and which side is clean when you’re donning and doffing?

The CDC is very explicit when they describe handmade fabric masks as an absolute last resort. “Homemade masks are not considered PPE, since their capability to protect HCP is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option.”  There is no CDC-approved fabric mask!

I hope it never comes to the point when healthcare workers have to choose between no protection, or the use of a cloth face mask.  It is still our employers’ obligation to provide us adequate protection, even in a pandemic. Keep pushing for your employer to provide you the appropriate PPE. It feels like we’re being told to jump out an airplane, without a parachute.  Please be safe, my friends.

*note:  the author is also a bedside nurse in the Twin Cities.