Here’s what Utah hospitals say about homemade masks

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An impulse to donate homemade masks to Utah hospitals has put health care providers in a bind: They appreciate the thought, but the masks themselves aren’t that helpful.

In a joint statement Wednesday, University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare cited “the generosity of so many people in the community” who want to donate medical masks they sew themselves. But, the groups added, “homemade cloth masks do not provide the appropriate level of antimicrobial protection for caregivers in close contact with patients with COVID-19.”

Because of that, U. Health and Intermountain say they are not accepting donations of homemade cloth masks.

Tammy Nelson, manager of Fabric Center, a family-owned fabric store in West Jordan, said she’s had “hundreds” of customers in the last week coming in to get supplies to make masks.

“We’re running out of elastic,” Nelson said.

JoAnn Fabrics is giving away free kits at its Utah stores. Employees are putting together the fabric, thread, fusible interface and elastic for about 50 kits a day at the chain’s location on 3300 South, said store manager Leslie Bair.

The kits are being handed out one to a household, with enough materials in each to make five masks. They are going as fast as they are being made, Bair said. The chain’s website also has instructions, for those hardcore sewers who already have the materials in stock.

The masks can block big droplets that are expelled when people sneeze or cough, but they don’t stop all of the small ones. Only the N95 masks that health care workers use can block all the droplets, and most people can’t make those at home.

The masks can help prevent some colds, and they act as a reminder for people not to touch their faces.

U. Health and Intermountain cited a 2013 study that found homemade masks “would be better than no protection,” though should only be used “as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals.”

With social distancing and other measures, the providers said, homemade masks “may slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community.”

Intermountain and U. Health are working with several Utah charities to develop a way for people in the community to help produce medical-grade masks. When that process is ready, the provider groups will share the information and invite volunteers to make them.

Meanwhile, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to patients or health care workers, neither U. Health nor Intermountain is accepting any drop-off donations of toys, blankets, food or other physical items. The providers also ask people not to call the COVID-19 hotlines about donations, so the line is clear for calls from people with medical needs.