At least three provincial governments in Argentina have recommended that citizens use face-masks when leaving their homes – now the Casa Rosada is recommending citizens consider making their own homemade versions, in a bid to leave professional surgical masks for those who most need them.
The debate over the use of face-masks to protect against the novel coronavirus has raged across the globe in recent months, although experts did not originally recommend the use of surgical masks for the entire population when the first cases of Covid-19 were detected in Argentina.
Officials initially said they were considered necessary solely for those infected and healthcare professionals at work. On Wednesday, the government reiterated that advice, though it said homemade versions could be used by citizens, provided they didn't skip other precautionary measures recommended by the Health Ministry.
Argentina's Health Access Secretary Carla Vizzotti stressed that "the masks for professional or surgical use should be used exclusively by health personnel or patients with diagnosed coronaviruses."
For this reason, the government recommends that those who have to leave their homes for any reason, or are exempt from compulsory quarantine, make their own homemade face masks.
“In recent days, the World Health Organisation considered that the use of homemade face masks may have a role in this challenge,” the government said in a video broadcast at the Casa Rosada.
The World Health Organisation has previously not ruled out the use of masks, saying they may contribute to infection prevention in some way. However, they have consistently refused to endorse their regular use and on Tuesday, WHO officials said that evidence was inconclusive.
The Argentine government’s video added that the use of homemade masks by normal citizens would free up stock of regulatory face masks for healthcare professionals, who require items with surgical standards and high levels of protection.
“If you have to leave your house, you can make your own face mask. This way we can help reduce the risk of transmission, and we can prioritise the use of regulatory face masks for healthcare personnel,” they explain.
Although masks have not been originally recommended for those who are not medical or health personnel, in recent days the debate has once again risen to the fire. This week, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States suggests their use in public places where it can be difficult to maintain social distancing.
Some provincial governments, however, are forging their own path on the issue. Officials in Santiago del Estero, Misiones and Salta have announced that they will impose the use of face masks as a strategy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic – homemade or not.
In Misiones, Governor Oscar Herrera Ahuad reported that, starting this Monday, the use of barbijos would be required for “those who go to public institutions, to supermarkets, those who sell fuels, and those who are on public roads.”
The Bonaerense municipality of Zárate has also adopted a similar policy.
On Wednesday, the government laid out a series of key criteria for those who make homemade face-masks. "It is important that your homemade face mask includes several layers of fabric, that it allows for normal breathing, that it fits well to the face with ties or elastics to the ears, and that you can wash and dry it properly without damaging its shape.”
Doctor Roberto Chuit, director of the Institute of Epidemiological Research, warned in an interview with Perfil last weekend that homemade masks "do not meet surgical standards," though he said they could be "useful for the general population."
"Ideally, use a rather thick fabric. The best thing is that pre-made face masks are used, but given the shortage or the impossibility of obtaining them, it is an alternative, although not for medical or health personnel,” he clarified.