New website, masks4sa.co.za, aims to spread the message that homemade masks can help to curb the spread of COVID-19 and lower the rate of infection. The creators, led by Bruce and Kim Harbottle, are calling all South Africans to join the movement and help make homemade masks for people across the country.
Across the globe, and in South Africa, shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect against the spread of COVID-19 are being experienced. The World Health Organisation has recommended that PPE be saved for the most vulnerable workers. However, a community movement informing the public of the importance of wearing masks to protect others has been growing. This pro-social movement #masks4all has now reached South Africa.
Making a case for wearing homemade masks
The Czech Republic went from zero mask usage to 100% in 10 days, and in the process, they slowed the growth of new COVID-19 cases. They made their own, without government assistance, distributing them to anyone in their community to use through leaving masks in public places. The Czech government is now encouraging countries around the world to slow the spread of the virus through mask-wearing by the general public.
Dr Sui Huang, a molecular and cell biologist at the Institute for Systems Biology, argues that “The latest biological findings on SARS-Cov-2 viral entry into human tissue and sneeze/cough-droplet ballistics suggest that the major transmission mechanism is not via the fine aerosols but large droplets, and thus, warrant the wearing of surgical masks by everyone.” He suggests that wearing masks can offer “partial protection” and calls for broad adoption of wearing masks.
Inspired by the movement and drop in virus transmission in the Czech Republic and articles like Dr Huang’s, a team of young creatives in South Africa wants to inspire South Africans to make and wear homemade masks in public. With large numbers of people living and travelling in close proximity to each other in South Africa, they say, wearing homemade masks protects you from others and others from you. The message they hope to convey is: “Masks don’t guarantee you won’t get infected. Masks do make it harder for viruses to multiply and less likely you will spread the virus while you don’t show symptoms.”
Bruce and Kimlyn Harbottle set up the website masksforSA.co.za to offer curated patterns, tutorials and resources to help South Africans make their own masks, and to share information on how mask-wearing can help flatten the curve.
“Masks aren’t enough on their own. But they aren’t part of the solution in every region that’s figuring out how to beat COVID-19,” Bruce says.
“When added to social distancing, handwashing, the lockdown measures in South Africa, rigorous tracing and testing, homemade masks worn by everyone can significantly slow the spread of COVID-19 and do not reduce supply to health workers,” adds Kimlyn.
Spreading the message
Masks4SA is calling South Africans to join the movement by wearing a mask whenever they leave their homes. For those without masks, the website has resources available to assist people to make one using an old t-shirt or pillowcase. “By wearing a mask, you are not only reducing the chances of you catching COVID-19, you are also making it socially acceptable to wear masks in public,” says Kimlyn. “This can help to contribute towards decreasing the spread of the coronavirus.”
“Tell everyone you know about the difference wearing a homemade face mask makes,” suggests Bruce. “If we are to recover from COVID-19 with the least negative health and economic impact, then we need to urgently flatten the infection curve in South Africa. You will find tools to spread the message on social media and WhatsApp groups on masksforSA.co.za.”