Will a Face Mask Protect You From Coronavirus? Experts Say No.

Face mask sales have soared amid the coronavirus outbreak, but health experts say they won't protect you.

As panic over the spread of coronavirus intensifies in the U.S., retail stores are selling out of face masks that people are buying in bulk in the hopes of protecting themselves from the respiratory disease. And the hunt for face masks is only growing now that the World Health Organization says the "risk of spread and the risk of impact" is "very high at a global level," an elevation from the previously stated "high" global risk. But what people don't realize is that experts say these face masks are largely unhelpful when it comes to protecting yourself against coronavirus.

"The fact is, your typical surgical mask is not going to protect or prevent infection," Erin Sorrell, assistant research professor at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Georgetown University, told BuzzFeed News. "The virus itself is so small that it can penetrate the mask. So it literally does nothing for you."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) similarly states that it "does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases." However, the CDC says "face masks should be used by people who show symptoms" in order to avoid spreading the disease to others, as well as health workers and the caregivers of those infected.

Still, huge retailers like Walgreens, Home Depot, and Lowe's are running out of face masks. Home Depot has even limited the sales of the popular N95 respirator mask to 10 per person, according to U.S. News and World Report.

And on Amazon, users are complaining of an astronomical surge in prices for surgical face masks due to the recent demand as a result of coronavirus.

Though there is currently no vaccine against coronavirus, the CDC recommends taking preventative action such as avoiding close contact with people who are sick, covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

In fact, in terms of touching your face, a face mask might even be counterproductive. "If it's not fitted right, you're going to fumble with it. You're going to be touching your face, which is the No. 1 way you're going to get disease, is unclean hands touching your face," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Wednesday, according to CBS News.

The best preventative measure you can take when it comes to contracting coronavirus is washing your hands. The CDC recommends washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

In addition, Andrew Stanley Pekosz, PhD, professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CBS News people should "practice social distancing—stay five feet away from people to avoid being close enough to be exposed to respiratory droplets from that person."

Also, a reminder that the morality rate for coronavirus is around 2 percent in the epicenter of the outbreak, and less than that elsewhere, The Guardian reports. The flu, on the other hand, has a mortality rate of about 7.9 percent, according to a 2019 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

So, ultimately, Pekosz says, the best thing you can do for yourself is "get a flu shot. Influenza has killed over 16,000 Americans this year and is still causing disease across the U.S."
Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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