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The day health officials have long dreaded is here.

For weeks, the media has reported on an imminent shortage of medical supplies, including face masks. Now, hospitals are “days away” from reaching the end of their stores, and have resorted to crafting their own with supplies they can access, such as clear vinyl, tape, foam and elastic bands.

“We’re days away from running out of the equipment we need,” Melissa Tizon, associate vice president of Providence St. Joseph Health, told Reuters. She said her West Coast hospital group, which runs 51 facilities across five states, is “expecting more shipments later on, but until then we’ve got to improvise.”

Coronavirus cases have rocketed past 14,000 in the US since the first virus-positive test was confirmed in January. Since then, 150 Americans have died as a result. Globally, there have been more than 10,000 deaths among more than 244,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with likely many more thousands undetected.

In a briefing on Thursday, President Trump assured the nation that “millions of masks” are in production, then added: “But this is really for the local governments, governors and people within the state, depending on the way they divided it up.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo addressed the situation in dire terms: “Ventilators are what the missiles were in World War II,” he said on the “Today” show Thursday. “We have to make those missiles, we have to make those ventilators, get them made.”

Meanwhile, hospitals are pleading with outside industries, including construction companies, dentists and veterinarians, to donate any they may have on-hand — which is why it’s also so important that otherwise healthy Americans stop buying up medical gear. Besides, while there are studies showing they can help prevent a sick person from transmitting COVID-19 to someone else, there’s no real proof that they will prevent individuals from exposure to the coronavirus.

But for those who insist on preparing in every way possible, the craft and sewing bloggers of the world have got you covered — pun not intended, but welcomed!

There is more than one way to construct a mask. Can’t get a hold of elastic string? Try ponytail bands, rubber bands or simple baker’s twine for tying. And while wrapping a bandana around your face might look pretty badass, it’s not the most effective material at blocking virus particles, according to a 2013 Cambridge University study on how household materials hold up against micron-size particles and viruses. To put that into perspective, a virus particle is about one-millionth of an inch, or a thousand times smaller than bacteria, which is already much smaller than most human cells.

Researchers found that surgical face masks, made of a specialized paper that is both strong and breathable, were roughly 89 percent effective at preventing sick individuals from transmitting virus particles that are .02 microns (or micrometers) in size, which is five times smaller than the coronavirus. Meanwhile, particles 1 micron in size, 10 times larger than the coronavirus, were filtered at a rate of 97 percent.

A vacuum cleaner bag was considered the most formidable household material with a rate of nearly 86 percent protection against the smallest particles tested. Falling behind was a standard dish towel at nearly 73 percent; a cotton-blend T-shirt at 70 percent; and an antimicrobial pillowcase at 68 percent.

They also tested how doubling up on the material could help. In the case of dish towels, two layers showed a notable increase in filtration rate — a 14 percent jump for particles of 1 micron in size — although the same level of increased benefits could not be said for cotton shirts or pillowcases.

Nevertheless, the Cambridge researchers still chose pillowcases and T-shirts as their favorite option in a pinch because of their breathability. While two dish towel layers may be formidable against many micro-particles, they found the construction 138 percent more difficult to breathe through than a typical surgical face mask, whereas a double-layer of pillowcases was just 4 percent less breathable.

While medical-grade face masks were found to be, on average, “three times more effective in blocking transmission [of microorganisms]” compared to their homemade counterparts, they also concluded that makeshift masks are still better than none at all.

“A homemade mask should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals,” they wrote, “but it would be better than no protection.”

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