Stores are selling out of masks, and health care workers risk infection if they cannot get the protective gear. Customers in a store in Hong Kong purchasing masks on Tuesday. In the United States, stores and pharmacies are reporting selling out of face masks, raising the prospect of shortages. Can wearing a medical face mask protect you against the new coronavirus? It’s a question many people, including pet owners who are putting canine face masks on their dogs, are asking. If it’s a regular surgical face mask, the answer is “no,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, told Live Science.
A more specialized mask, known as an N95 respirator, can protect against the new coronavirus, also called 2019-nCoV. The respirator is thicker than a surgical mask, but Schaffner doesn’t recommend it for public use, at least not at this point.
Don’t Buy Surgical Masks
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, Schaffner 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 help much in the context of a virus, Schaffner said. “They’re not designed to keep out viral particles, and they’re not nearly as tightly fitted around your nose and cheeks,” as an N95 respirator, he said.
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