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Industrial facemasks okayed for hospital use—or, if you can’t wait, you can make your own

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How badly does your hospital need surgical masks and other personal protection equipment (PPE)?

In the face of a critical nationwide shortage of PPE like facemasks, veterinary hospitals that still have them are monitoring their use carefully. Michael B. Mison, DVM, DIPL. ACVS, Hospital Director/Chief Medical Officer at PennVet’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital in Philadelphia, told NEWStat that, “We have centralized PPE within the hospital to one location so we can carefully monitor and direct PPE as needed.”

Veterinary hospitals like PennVet may be able to breathe a little easier in the not-too-distant future.

The US government changed the law last Wednesday night to allow companies that make N95 respirators for industry—the kind used by builders and painters—to sell them to hospitals and other healthcare workers. That would include veterinary professionals, but right now human healthcare workers are first in line, so it may take a while for the masks to reach veterinary workers.

Still, supply might not be a problem in the long run: Vice President Mike Pence said in a White House briefing Thursday that companies that make the masks, such as Honeywell and 3M, are gearing up produce them in the “tens of millions.”

The new legislation followed on the heels of a White House request made Tuesday that construction companies across the country donate their N95 masks to the healthcare industry.

According to Pence, “Those industrial masks that they use on construction sites are perfectly acceptable for health care workers to be protected from a respiratory disease. We are asking construction companies . . .  to donate their N-95 masks to their local hospitals and also forgo making new orders.”

Meanwhile, if you’re really in need, you can always make your own. Seriously. The CDC says so: “In settings where facemasks are not available HCP (Health Care Professionals) might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort.”

So it’s an option, although not one the CDC recommends: “However, homemade masks are not considered PPE, since their capability to protect HCP is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option.”

But if you’re determined to DIY, there are several excellent resources to guide you.

The FreeSewing Open Source Project is a grass-roots nonprofit based in The Netherlands that provides free sewing patterns to the general public. Anticipating the facemask shortage, they posted a facemask sewing pattern to their website in late February.

Called the Fu face mask, the pattern is a FreeSewing original, and the website gives complete instructions on how to make one, including a list of materials needed and even an instructional video.

The site encourages people to make facemasks and donate them to hospitals, and says response has been “overwhelming.”

If you’re not into sewing but you are in a pinch, the CDC says even a bandana would do.

Photo credit: © iStock/gilz