The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed shortcomings in the U.S. medical equipment supply chain, most notably face masks and ventilators.

While the general population in many east Asian countries have been wearing face masks since the start of the outbreak, if not before, the U.S. surgeon general told the public at the end of February, “Seriously people-STOP BUYING FACE MASKS!” He noted there was no evidence suggesting it prevented infection in the general population and emphasized the importance of keeping front line healthcare workers protected.

Many experts have questioned that advice and now, as the infection rate in the U.S. skyrockets, so is the Centers for Disease Control. The efficacy of any face mask has been questioned extensively throughout this crisis. There are no scientific studies showing how effective masks are at stopping the spread of the coronavirus since one cannot ethically take a group of people, put masks on some of them, blast them with a virus and see how many get sick; but logically, most can agree that some sort of barrier is better than none.

As more and more experts, both internationally and domestically are moving toward the recommendation for the general population to wear face masks, we're still in the position of massive shortages in the supply chain for N95 masks, which block 95 percent of 0.3 particles. Because it is vital front line workers have access to these masks, the consensus for what the general population should wear is moving toward homemade cloth masks.

Many hospitals across the nation have already recognized this valuable resource and held mask drives to encourage local crafters to make and donate these masks. These masks are often issued to patients and visitors, leaving the valuable N95 masks available to healthcare workers.

The first official directive in the U.S. is coming out of San Diego County in California, which updated it's guidelines on April 2 to require any workers interacting with the public to wear a cloth face covering. The general public is encouraged to wear a cloth face covering when out in public. The guideline adds medical grade masks should not be used.

The Center for Disease Control was close behind and formally announced the general population should wear a cloth face covering when out in public on April 3. It made its recommendation based on the latest observations, both domestic and abroad, indicating the coronavirus may be mostly spread by asymptomatic individuals.

As testing remains unavailable for most Americans, it is likely a significant portion of the population is infected, are not yet showing symptoms or may never show symptoms. Meaning the face mask is more likely to keep someone who does not know they are infected from infecting someone else as opposed to protecting the wearer from being infected. The CDC guidelines specifically recommend the use of cloth face coverings as surgical masks and N95 masks should be reserved for front line healthcare workers.

A cloth face covering can be as simple as a scarf or handkerchief wrapped around one's face or as complex as a sewn mask made with multiple fabric layers. Regardless of the type of face mask, proper hygiene is essential to its effectiveness. The wearer should always wash their hands before putting on a face mask. It is best to use a fresh, clean face mask, if reusing a mask, ensure the outside is facing out.

If making cloth face masks, it's a good idea to use two different colors of fabric to help identify which is the outside. It's also a good idea to make several masks so they can be rotated frequently. Regularly washing the masks in hot soapy water will greatly improve their effectiveness.

A wide variety of homemade face masks have been designed and made, with tutorials and patterns available across the internet. A quick query on your favorite search engine should reveal a multitude of options. After spending a little time looking at some different designs, there is a good chance most readers can find a design that matches their skill set and available materials.