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Homemade masks not an option in St. Louis area hospitals, but groups are sewing them up just in case

The CDC said non-medical grade masks are a last resort

ST. LOUIS — Seamstresses around the Bi-state are firing up their sewing machines to make masks for hospital workers, but will their efforts actually help? The answer is not right now, but maybe. 

The CDC says:

"Given the recent shortage of personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals, the CDC has indicated that homemade masks (banda, scarfs) can be considered for use by healthcare practitioners as a last resort when proper face-masks are not available. Homemade masks are not considered protective equipment since their capacity to protect is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option. They should be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front and sides of the face."

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But for Greater St. Louis One Million Mask Drive Facebook organizer Adelaide Lancaster, the CDC's recommendation is not an option. 

"The idea of sending our loved one to work with a bandanna around their face is just not okay," she told 5 On Your Side. 

Lancaster is among the many family members of medical caregivers in St. Louis who are worried about not having enough personal protective equipment, like respirator masks, gloves and gowns, to protect their loved ones. 

She's helping spearhead two Facebook Group campaigns to organize supply efforts. The first is being run through the Facebook group PPE for STL and it is the most urgent. 

"It's actually a drive for PPE materials, so hospital grade masks, gloves and eye protective wear that are in homes, businesses and schools and trying to get those out of those places and into the hospitals," Lancaster said.

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Local hospitals like Mercy and SSM are currently only using FDA-approved equipment for caregivers, which means homemade masks are out, but donated medical grade equipment could be needed if their supply is low. 

Lancaster said the goal of the PPE for STL Facebook group is to "create a little bit more of a pipeline and a supply that can be requested and deployed by a hospital or department or unit." 

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She is also working with the Greater St. Louis One Million Mask Drive on Facebook to create a template for a mask that can be made at home and hold up to the hospital grade ones that are in short supply. 

The group worked on a design called Aries Face Mask. Lancaster's husband Tim, who works in local healthcare, wanted it to be "a design that would seal with the chin bone and would have a larger surface area of removable, replaceable, disposable filter. And that filter is of the same grade that N95 is."

Homemade masks are currently not an option in St. Louis area hospitals, but they may become one in the weeks ahead. The CDC said their capacity to protect is unknown and caution should be exercised when considering that option. Basically, homemade masks have not been tested, so people really do not know if they work or not.

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