Around the world, people are buying up face masks in hopes of avoiding the Wuhan coronavirus. But do they work? The answer is complicated. Read on for details from health experts.
Public health experts and medical researchers are scrambling to understand how the disease spreads, and what it does, and how to stop it. And in the absence of information, many people are hoarding face masks, wearing face masks, and advising others to wear face masks to avoid catching Novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV, which as of today has killed more than 200 people.
In China, roughly 10,000 people are believed to have been infected so far.
Zunyou Wu, chief epidemiologist at China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told a Chinese state-controlled broadcaster that all people in China must wear masks when taking public transportation.
But if the masks don't fit properly, or they're not constructed to filter properly, or if transmission happens some other way -- there's lots of ways masks may either not protect you, or worsen your risk.
Coronavirus can be transmitted from person to person, although it is not clear how easily. Most cases have been in people who have been in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the center of the outbreak, family members of those infected, or medical workers. Transmission is likely through contact with an infected person via particles in the air from coughing or sneezing, or by someone touching an infected person or object with the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.
“Situations that require a mask are when you are in a crowd...or if you are caring for a sick person. If it makes you feel better, wear a surgical mask,” Angela Rasmussen, virologist at the Center for Infection & Immunity at Columbia University said on the Reuters Global Markets Forum.
Other experts have said disposable surgical masks may not fit the face tightly enough to prevent infection, while some have pointed out that wrong handling of masks such as touching the front could increase the likelihood of infection spread.
There are a number of interesting anecdotes in the article about disinformation and misinformation involving masks and coronavirus in the rest of the Reuters article, it's a good read.