On the day that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised the public to wear cloth face masks to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Etsy’s CEO, Josh Silverman, told his community of sellers that those with the skills and materials to make these masks should consider doing so. But the company also warned sellers against making medical or health claims about their masks.
In a blog published on Friday, Silverman said Etsy had sold hundreds of thousands of masks in recent days and that it had seen more than 10,000 sellers make a mask sale in the last week. Although thousands of sellers have already started to include masks in their product offerings, Silverman said, “demand will very likely outpace our sellers’ existing supply.”
The CDC recently changed its advice to the public on cloth face masks after repeatedly denying that it had any plans to alter its original guidance, which only advised people who were sick or caring for the sick to wear masks.
“We believe that the Etsy community is uniquely positioned to address this crucial need during a global health crisis,” Silverman said. “We hope that increasing the availability of fabric, non-medical grade face masks from Etsy sellers will allow more medical and surgical masks to reach the people who need them most: front-line healthcare workers.”
This last sentence, however, was followed by an asterisk and a disclaimer. It explained that handmade masks are not a substitute for medical-grade equipment, which is true, and that sellers could not “advertise or represent their products as medical devices, or that they are designed or intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose or cure any disease or health condition.”
In a separate seller handbook for face masks, Etsy stated that buyers will see a banner on listing pages that sell masks letting them know that items sold on Etsy aren’t medical grade. According to the handbook, “face mask” was the most searched item on Etsy over the past two weeks.
The handbook also tells sellers that they should not mention the novel coronavirus or covid-19, the disease caused by it, on their mask listing pages. Other examples of prohibited language included “virus protection or prevention,” “CDC, FDA or other official approval or compliance” and “comparisons to N95 mask,” among others.
Etsy said that shoppers can flag listings with medical claims, which means they would be removed from the site. Shops that repeatedly have items removed can be suspended. Nonetheless, Etsy did encourage it sellers to highlight other types of information about their face masks, such as whether they are washable, adjustable or reversible.
Etsy’s measures on health claims are a good call, especially considering the fear surrounding the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. Per the CDC, wearing a cloth face mask in certain public settings may help people who have the virus—but don’t know it yet—from passing it to others. However, as Etsy says, it’s important to remember that cloth face masks are not medical devices. But they are an important tool in this fight.