French hospitals ask for home-made masks but...

Several hospitals have been accepting home-made fabric masks from the public, however they will not confirm if such masks are actually effective or not…

2 April 2020
By Oliver Rowland

There has been mixed opinion from doctors about the usefulness for the public of masks, especially home-made fabric ones.

The CHU de Saint-Brieuc (teaching hospital) in Brittany recently put out a request to the public to make masks for it based on a model suggested by the CHU de Grenoble, saying that the masks would be used by non-medical staff of the hospital so as to keep the stocks of the professionally-made masks for medical staff. 

It added however: «This request is not a call for the general population to wear masks.

“This type of mask in no way replaces the precautions stipulated by the Health Ministry or dispenses you from following confinement rules… the effectiveness of this type of mask cannot be certified at present in the absence of studies”.

In another case, a Connexion journalist recently spoke to a sewing group in the Var which said its local hospital in Brignoles is "happy to accept" its masks, made to the same pattern. However we have been trying to speak to its management about their effectiveness for the past week but no one has been available to respond on this point.

The issue was first brought to the fore when the CHU de Grenoble put out a staff memo with the suggestion that, “in the context of a deteriorated situation and to help remedy the shortage of masks”, staff not directly working with Covid-19 patients might consider making their own. The memo said this was “to allow you to protect yourself”, to “continue your work” and “make sure the establishment can continue to do its job and care for patients”.

The memo advised making masks from ‘scraps of cotton for the exterior and lining’ as well as fine molleton (felt) or polaire in-between. Polaire is ‘fleece’ in the sense of a thick synthetic material used for winter jackets.

The memo included making instructions based on a design posted by a craft website in Malaysia, craftpassion.com (the site has also produced a video explaining the steps).

Connexion pressed Grenoble CHU several times as to what protection such a home-made mask might offer but no-one has answered this point.

A spokeswoman stated: “The procedure was shared internally but with no request that staff make them. Cloth masks can be worn by professionals who wish to do so and only when they are not in contact with the patients – to go to the canteen or to their car, for example.

“I cannot give any scientific data on the protection of cloth masks compared to surgical or FFP2 masks.”

Another hospital, the CHU de Lille, is having a professional clothing company make ready-made fabric mask sections that local people then sew together for them.

 A spokesman told medical website doctissimo.fr they had aimed to find a design that would filter in a similar way to surgical masks [which protect others, not the wearer], and which retained its filtering properties after washing. However they are not being used by staff facing patients. “They’re aimed at people walking around the corridors or getting together in meetings”. They did it so as to “reassure” them and help them “recover their peace of mind”, he said.

Previous story: Covid-19 - mixed medical opinion on home-made masks

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