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FAKE OR FACT: Does wearing face mask protect you from coronavirus?

FILE PHOTO – Women wearing face masks use their phones in Manila, Philippines, January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

Face masks alone will not protect you from the threat of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

People often get the misconception that wearing face masks is enough to protect themselves, however, research says that it is not completely effective, as many people wear them improperly and stick their hands underneath them to scratch their face.

If you wear a surgical mask, the idea is to cover your nose and mouth to protect your respiratory system.

“They are effective in healthcare settings in which providers wear them appropriately to care for patients with respiratory viruses,” said Amesh Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

Once a person wearing the mask pulls it down to their nose, it defeats its purpose.

Only medical-grade N-95 or N-100 face masks work, says Bruce Y. Lee, MD, a professor of health policy at CUNY School of Public Health in New York City and the founder of Public Health Informatics Computational and Operation Research (PHICOR). These special masks are thicker and they filter out more airborne particles than the standard surgical ones you usually see people wearing.

According to Dr. Lee, there are a few things to be aware of when using a face mask:

  • Clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water before and after use.
  • You must keep a snug seal (facial hair can interfere with the seal).
  • It’s uncomfortable to wear, but you must avoid touching the mask while using it.
  • If the mask gets wet, replace it, and do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Dispose of the mask in a closed bin.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also recommends wearing face masks if someone is coughing or sneezing or have a fever, to prevent spreading infection. If you do not have these symptoms, you do not have to wear a mask.

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