Coronavirus: how worried should I be about the shortage of face masks? Or can I just use a scarf?

How important are face masks?

For a disease with no drug or vaccine yet, non-pharmaceutical measures are the mainstay of control. This includes personal protective equipment, such as face masks.

But the type of face masks we typically see (surgical masks) do not provide a seal around the face or filtration of airborne particles, like those that may carry coronavirus.


a limited physical barrier against you transferring the virus from your hand to the face, or from large droplets and splashes of fluid.

You also need to put on and remove your mask properly, as this advice from the World Health Organisation shows.

As health-care workers struggle with a shortage of  face masks in their fight against COVID-19, crafters are racing to sew cloth face masks for donation. It may seem unbelievable that the world’s wealthiest nation might need to resort to DIY face masks, but the Department of Health and Human Services estimates the US will go through 3.5 billion face masks fighting the coronavirus over the course of a year, and our national stockpile amounts to only 1 percent of that. So, should you dust off your sewing machine and start making masks for health care workers? We consulted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a Minnesota hospital network to find out.