Thinking About Getting a Mask to Protect Against Coronavirus? What You Need to Know

The spread of COVID-19 has caused a run on face masks, but experts advised Americans against wearing one to try to reduce the chance they'll contract the virus.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of the virus in the U.S. with no known origin. It raised the possibility that community spread of the virus could be starting and officials urged Americans to prepare for that possibility.

An increased number of cases, which have surpassed 82,000, caused a surge in consumer demand for disposable face masks. Certain varieties sold out on Amazon and a pack of 10 3M N95 respirators was selling for $99.99, five times more than normal, according to CBS.

Celebrities, such as Gwenyth Paltrow and Kate Hudson, posted photos of themselves wearing masks while traveling, but experts in America have yet to make the recommendation and it could actually make someone more susceptible.

Should I invest in an N95 respirator…


Jeffrey Goad, chair of the department of pharmacy practice at Chapman University School of Pharmacy, told Newsweek the only people who need to be investing in an N95 respirator are health care workers.

"The N95 mask needs to be fit tested to make sure it does not leak around the edges," Goad explained. "Also, it is very difficult to breath in an N95 mask for more than an hour at a time, thus people are likely to take it off or loosen the mask to make breathing easier, defeating the purpose of the mask."

Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic, said health care workers at his hospital who use N95 masks for highly infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and measles, are specially fitted for their masks. There's a designated individual who conducts fit tests to ensure a snug fit and it's unlikely the general public would have the same security if they purchased a mask themselves.

Fine, I get that's extreme, but what about just a surgical mask…

Still no.

Although there's one confirmed case in California with no known origin, Esper said there's no evidence of sustained community spread, so the general public doesn't need to wear a mask. Goad was skeptical public health officials would ever recommend that healthy people wear a face mask and expected that the strategy would continue to be advocating for people who are sick to wear a mask.

"People just need to be less polite and hand a face mask to anyone who appears sick and coughing," Goad said.

coronavirus united states face mask
On February 15, Chinese students in Westwood, California, hold a memorial for Dr Li Wenliang, the whistleblower of the Coronavirus, COVID-19, that originated in Wuhan, China, and caused the his death. Although people have started wearing face masks in the U.S., experts say it isn't necessary for healthy people to wear them. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty

Maybe, I'll just get one, you know, to try it out...

Seriously, it's unnecessary.

Getting just one face mask isn't an adequate prevention measure. Esper explained that the only way to prevent pathogens from various viruses and bacteria from collecting on a face mask is to change it frequently. At the hospital, health care workers replace their masks every time they see a patient.

"What are you going to do? Go into one store and replace it when you go into a new store? You meet one person and you replace the mask before you meet another friend?" Esper said.

Goad suggested changing masks every hour or so because exhaling causes the mask to become wet. If the wet seeps through to the outer surface of the mask, it can make it easier for viruses to stick to it.

So, you're saying wearing the mask could increase my chances?


"Those who are not sick and choose to wear a face mask may be putting themselves at greater risk for acquiring coronavirus," Goad said. "People tend to touch their face more often, adjusting the fit of their mask, but potentially transferring virus on their fingers into their nose, eyes or mouth."

But, what if I promise to change it...

Again, no.

Esper said that it's possible the virus could get onto the mask and transfer to a person's hands when they take it off. Then, when the person touches their mouth, they become infected. Plus, you can't eat with the mask on so once someone sits down at a coffee shop and takes it off to sip their drink, they're exposed to the pathogens.

And, if the "worried well," as Goad calls them, increase their use of masks, it could cause shortages for people who really need them.

"I think good hand washing is going to be more effective than a mask is for people at large," Esper said. "If you want to protect yourself against this coronavirus and every other virus wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based rub several times a day."