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Health officials change face mask guidance amid shortage

New research suggests COVID-19 could possibly spread by talking or even just breathing. That's fueling the debate over if everyone should wear masks in public.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — From the start of the coronavirus pandemic, face masks have been flying off shelves, prompting a shortage of personal protective equipment for medical professionals. Health officials had been warning people that wearing a mask will not protect a healthy person from getting COVID-19 but now, that guidance seems to be changing.

New research suggests the coronavirus could possibly spread by talking or even just breathing. That's fueling the debate over if everyone should wear masks in public.

We are expecting changing guidelines out of the White House on Friday but the CDC guidelines still say people should only wear masks if they have COVID or if they are caring for someone who does.

Governor Roy Cooper announced Friday, masks and other personal protective equipment are in short supply in North Carolina, even after a shipment from the national stockpile.

“The studies are mixed on wearing a mask. The first thing I would tell you is that we want our front line health care providers and people who are dealing directly with the public to be first in line to get masks,” said Governor Cooper.

He said the state's top medical officers have been in contact with CDC about whether or not masks should be worn in public. 

“I think that can be one component of protecting folks from the spread of the virus. Again, the mask has to be used appropriately and you want to do the tried and true things of washing your hands,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen with NCDHHS.

They are emphasizing it is not a substitute for social distancing and wearing a mask should not give people a false sense of security. The demand for cloth masks is allowing one North Carolina to save her small clothing business by making face masks instead.

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Elizabeth Dibagno has been sewing around the clock trying to keep up with orders for handmade face masks. “I listed 23 children's masks yesterday at 5 o'clock and they were sold out yesterday at 9 when I went to bed,” said Dibagno, owner of Carolina Baby Boutique. 

She usually makes specialty children’s clothing and Easer is typically her busiest time. “Here’s a big pile of seersucker that in a normal year would've been totally used up on Easter orders,” she showed WCNC Charlotte over FaceTime.

But she's pivoting, using all of her fabrics and sewing machine to make cotton face masks for protection from the coronavirus. “It’s just the rectangular, pleated mask with the 1/8-inch plastic ear loops,” she said. 

Dibagno said it seems like most of her customers are average people looking to protect their families out in public.

Just one more way to help slow down the spread.

“I love to sew, and a lot of people don’t have that capability now and I’m glad to fill the need,” she said.

Again, health officials say social distancing is still the best way to stop the spread of coronavirus.

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