The US Surgeon General has urged the public not to buy face masks to protect against the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, warning they are largely ineffective at protecting against the viral infection in public.
They are, however, a useful tool for doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals who are consistently in close proximity to infected individuals. So, to prevent vital medical resources from running dry, the Surgeon General, Dr Jerome M Adams, has warned against rushing out to buy face masks.
“Seriously people – STOP BUYING MASKS!” Dr Adams tweeted over the weekend.
“They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
Jeffrey Swisher, chairman of California Pacific Medical Center’s department of anesthesiology, has also tweeted that "viral particles are too small and the filtration ability of surgical masks is insufficient" to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus. He added: "Surgical masks protect you as a patient in the operating room from bacterial contamination. Stop buying and hoarding them!"
Indeed, some parts of the world are already experiencing shortness of medical supplies, including face masks, in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Increased demand for face masks has also seen price surges and counterfeit products.
“There are severe strains on protective equipment around the world. Our primary concern is to ensure that our front line health workers are protected and that they have the equipment they need to do their jobs,” Dr Michael J Ryan, executive director of the health emergency program at the World Health Organization, said during a press conference on Friday.
The CDC states there is no need for the general population to be wearing face masks every day in public, but there is some evidence that suggests it’s useful for infected individuals to wear a mask in order to hamper viral transmission to others.
“There is very little evidence that wearing such masks protects the wearer from infection,” explained Dr Ben Killingley, Consultant in Acute Medicine and Infectious Diseases at University College London Hospital. “For example, studies have shown that wearing of masks by individuals in a household that contains an influenza-infected person does not confer significant protection.”
“Specific respirator masks are worn by healthcare workers when looking after sick people but this situation is very different from the general public wearing surgical face masks, particularly when outside and when not in close contact with symptomatic individuals.”
There are a few simple things you can do to reduce the risk of being infected with the novel coronavirus (or any virus for that matter). First and foremost: wash your hands regularly and thoroughly using soap and warm water. Touching surfaces that are handled by many different people in public, such as handrails or door handles, are particularly useful for hitchhiking viruses, so it’s worth paying extra attention to your hand hygiene while out and about. It’s also a good idea to avoid touching your face, specifically your mouth, nose, and eyes.