Can wearing a face mask protect you against the new coronavirus? If it’s a regular face mask and not surgical grade, the answer is no, Dr. Bruce Eisenberg, M.D. F.A.C.P., a primary care specialist at The Medical Group of South Florida in Jupiter.
Surgical grade masks and more specialized mask, known as an N95 respirator, can protect against the new coronavirus, also called SARS-CoV-2. The respirator is thicker than a surgical mask, but neither Schaffner nor the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) recommend it for public use, at least not at this point.
That’s because, in part, our first responders and healthcare workers need these verse the general public. The general public can use regular fabric masks to help prevent them from touching their face, but our Doctors and nurses at hospitals and other practices are putting themselves at risk every day.
While it still might be possible to snag an N95 respirator online, Eisenberg advised against it. Too many people have unnecessarily stockpile respirators, and because of this there is a shortage putting the health of medical workers and those who need them at risk, Eisenberg said.
The thinner surgical mask is intended for surgeons, because these products do a good job of keeping pathogens from the doctor’s nose and mouth from entering the surgical field, Eisenberg said.
In some Asian countries, such as Japan and China, it’s not uncommon to see people wearing surgical masks in public to protect against pathogens and pollution. But those masks don’t work 100% against the context of a virus, Eisenberg said. “They’re not nearly as tightly fitted around your nose and cheeks” as an N95 respirator, he said.
He noted that some people wear surgical masks because they are sick with a cold or the flu and they don’t want to get other people sick. But if you’re sick, it’s best just not to go to public areas. “That’s the time to stay home,” Eisenberg said.
People sick with COVID-19, however, should wear face masks to reduce the risk of infection to people around them, according to the CDC. Health care workers and those “taking care of someone infected with COVID-19 in close settings (at home or in a healthcare facility),” should also wear face masks, the CDC reported.
People wearing surgical masks should dispose of them after each use, the CDC added.
Otherwise, the best way to avoid getting the coronavirus is to, first and foremost, postpone any travel to places with known outbreaks. You can also thoroughly wash your hands with soap; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoid close contact with people who are sick; and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, the CDC recommends.
As for pet owners putting face masks on their dogs, a Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong tested positive a “weak positive” for COVID-19. However, two days after it was released from quarentine, the pet had died. Is unclear how the dog was tested for the illness. What’s more, it doesn’t appear that pets can transmit the virus to humans, and experts told people with pets not to panic.
Rather than put face masks on pets, the CDC advises that people ill with COVID-19 avoid animals, just as they would other people.
If you have questions or concerns about the coronavirus? You can now book a virtual appointment with one of our primary care specialists for only $39. Schedule your appointment here.