Face masks aren't a very effective way to prevent the spread of coronavirus, experts say, despite spiking sales
Sales of face masks are spiking in China and around the world amid a coronavirus outbreak. Health experts say that for the average person, the masks are not as effective as everyday measures like hand-washing and avoiding close contact with anyone who might be infected. Still, the CDC recommends that healthcare providers and those who might be infected wear masks. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Of the many preventative measures you can take to protect yourself from the growing Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, wearing a face mask is one of the most visible. But health experts aren't convinced it'll help much. "There's little harm in it," Eric Toner, a scientist at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said of donning a mask. "But it's not likely to be very effective in preventing it." Since the coronavirus outbreak started on December 31, more than 1,100 people have been infected and 41 have died. Cases have been recorded in 10 countries including China, where the outbreak originated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best precautions are the standard, everyday ways to avoid germs: wash your hands frequently, try not to touch your face, and avoiding close contact with sick people. However, the CDC has directed healthcare providers to give surgical masks to any patients that present flu-like symptoms or have recently traveled to Wuhan. That lowers the risk that a potentially infected person could spread the coronavirus to others via saliva or phlegm. The CDC also recommends that doctors and nurses treating potentially infected patients wear masks and goggles. But for the average person, a mask is likely unnecessary. 2 kinds of face masks
Face masks are designed to catch large contaminants and particles, including ones that might carry pathogens such as the coronavirus. There are two common kinds: surgical masks and N95 respirators. N95 respirators filter out most airborne particles from the surrounding air, preventing wearers from breathing in particles down to 0.3 microns in diameter. These types of masks are often used when air quality is poor due to wildfire smoke or pollution, and they're designed to be tightly fitted. However, the coronavirus is 0.12 microns in diameter. Surgical masks, meanwhile, are designed to keep large particle droplets and splatter from passing from a person's mouth to nearby surfaces or people. They're meant to keep healthcare providers from spreading their own mouth-borne germs to patients. Surgical masks are looser-fitting than N95 respirators because of this distinct purpose.
However, many people do not wear face masks properly: Wearers often move the masks to the side to touch their faces throughout the day, breaking the barrier that the mask is supposed to create. This makes the protection ineffective. People in the US probably don't need masks With only two confirmed cases in the US, the risk of contracting Wuhan coronavirus is "way too low to start wearing a face mask," Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, co-director of the University of Washington MetaCenter for Pandemic Preparedness and Global Health Security, told the New York Times. The CDC has also said "the immediate health risk to the general American public is considered low at this time." That differs from the guidance in Wuhan, China, however — the city where the outbreak started. Authorities there have urged all citizens to wear masks in public places. Many stores in China have reportedly sold out of masks, and prices for masks have soared with demand. Even in New York's Chinatown, Reuters reported, face masks are flying off the shelves.
Read more about the coronavirus outbreak The Wuhan coronavirus has killed 41 people and infected more than 1,100. Here's everything we know about the outbreak. Photos show how China is grappling with the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak as 12 cities are quarantined and hospitals run out of space The Wuhan coronavirus has spread to 10 countries. Here's how to protect yourself while traveling. The flu is a far bigger threat to most people in the US than the Wuhan coronavirus. Here's why. Experts think the Wuhan coronavirus jumped from bats to snakes to people. Bats have been the source of at least 4 pandemics. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: You’ve been washing your hands all wrong — here’s the right way to do it
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The Food and Drug Administration prohibited 65 manufacturers from selling masks for medical use. But the...The Food and Drug Administration prohibited 65 manufacturers from selling masks for medical use. But the move came after tests last month showed the masks didn’t meet standards.
10 nurses were suspended from a California hospital for refusing to treat coronavirus patients without N95 masks
Ten nurses were suspended from a California hospital after refusing to work with coronavirus patients unless...Ten nurses were suspended from a California hospital after refusing to work with coronavirus patients unless they were given more protective equipment, including N95 face masks. The nurses at Providence St. John's Medical Center in Santa Monica started to make the demands after a colleague tested positive. They are barred from returning to work while the company investigates. Some of the nurses said they feared spreading the virus to their families. Another nurse said she tested positive after treating coronavirus patients. The CDC does not require nurses to have N95 masks when dealing with coronavirus patients, but medical staff across the country have objected. The hospital did not comment on the nurses' cases but said it was now giving N95 masks to nurses and acknowledged the "national shortage." Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. Ten nurses in a California hospital were suspended after saying they would not work in the coronavirus ward if they were not given protection including N95 masks, The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times reported. The Los Angeles Times reported that three nurses at Providence St. John's Medical Center in Santa Monica, California, were suspended on Friday. It came after they demanded more protective equipment after learning that a coworker had tested positive for the virus. Seven more nurses were suspended after making other demands over the weekend, a source told the LA Times. National Nurses United, a body which represents the nurses, said that the 10 nurses have been suspended, The Associated Press reported. The union said that they are now allowed to return to work until there has been an investigation from human resources, but that they are still being paid. Mike Gulick, one of the nurses who demanded the equipment on Friday, was determined not to bring the virus to his wife and two-year-old daughter. He would stop at a hotel to shower before going home after his shifts, the AP reported. He told the AP: "I went into nursing with a passion for helping those who are most vulnerable and being an advocate for those who couldn't have a voice for themselves, but not under the conditions we're currently under." And Jack Cline, another suspended nurse, told the LA Times: "We told them we're willing to reuse the same mask all day long and cover it up with a surgical mask, just issue us one mask a shift." "That's all what we're asking for." N95 masks can remove 95% of airborne particles, offering more protection for healthcare workers than other mask types. The CDC has not required that medical staff use N95 masks, and says that medical workers can work with regular surgical masks when treating coronavirus patients. But health care workers have been critical of the policy. Cline said: "I've been a nurse for 25 years; I don't need the CDC to tell me when I need an N95," "When I have a patient coughing directly in my face ... I'm not going into that room unless they provide me with one." Cline also said: "I'm immune compromised, I'm a diabetic." "They're saying I'm refusing my assignment, I'm not ... It's not that I'm afraid to go in there, I'm afraid because I don't have the equipment." Medical staff around the country have worked without masks amid a national shortage during the outbreak, or have re-used masks when dealing with more than one patient. The Food and Drug Administration says that N95 respirator masks "should not be shared or reused." Angela Gatdula, another nurse at the hospital, tested positive for the virus, and said she thinks she contracted it after treating coronavirus patients. She said the hospital told her that wearing a surgical mask, and not an N95 mask, would be enough. "They could've done more," she told the LA Times. "I don't want it to be one of our nurses who ends up needing hospitalization, needing ICU admission, possibly even dying." The Providence St. John's Medical Center told the LA Times that it could not comment on suspensions due to privacy laws. In a more general statement, it said "We are so grateful for the heroic work our nurses perform each day and will not let the actions of a few diminish the appreciation we have for all our nurses and their commitment to our community. ... Saint John's cherishes its nurses and is taking precautions sanctioned by leading world, national, state and local health agencies to ensure their safety." It also declined to say how many workers in the hospital have tested positive for the virus, again citing privacy laws. The hospital would also not elaborate on shortages to the AP, but said that, as of Tuesday, it was giving N95 masks to all nurses who work with coronavirus patients and are waiting to see if they have tested positive. It also said it was disinfecting masks daily. "It's no secret there is a national shortage," the statement said. Nursing unions across the US have protested or have organized protests over the shortage of personal protective equipment like masks. Dr. Frank Gabrin, the first emergency room doctor to die of the coronavirus had told his friend before his death in March that he got infected after he had to wear the same mask four days in a row.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How the Navy's largest hospital ship can help with the coronavirus
The CDC is recommending — but not requiring — that people cover their faces if they...The CDC is recommending — but not requiring — that people cover their faces if they have to go out in public as the coronavirus spreads across the US. There isn't much good evidence that masks help prevent infection from spreading in a population, except when you put them on the people who are already sick. There are also risks associated with wearing a homemade mask: You might just be turning your scarf into a virus-catcher. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. If you must go out, cover up, according to new recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to curb spread of the novel coronavirus. The recommendations to wear cloth or fabric face masks announced by President Donald Trump on Friday come as emerging evidence suggests people can transmit the coronavirus to others before they even know they've been infected. "In light of these studies, the CDC is advising the use of nonmedical cloth face covering as an additional voluntary public-health measure," Trump said. "So it's voluntary, you don't have to do it ... I don't think I'm going to be doing it." It's quite different from recommendations during the early days of the pandemic, when public-health experts at the CDC said the agency did not "recommend the use of face masks for the general public" and the US surgeon general urged Americans to stop buying masks. Scientists still don't have solid evidence that masks work well at preventing infectious-disease outbreaks, especially the homemade kind. Masks may do a little bit to help sick people from spreading their infections to others and are useful for caregivers and healthcare workers who are exposed to a lot of coronavirus particles as they care for sick patients. "We have always recommended that symptomatic people wear a mask because if you're coughing, if you have a fever, if you're symptomatic, you could transmit disease to other people," Surgeon General Jerome Adams said at the White House Friday. "We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms ... This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity, for example, coughing, speaking, or sneezing, even if those people were not exhibiting symptoms." Because masks are in such short supply, public-health experts have stressed that surgical masks should still be saved chiefly for healthcare workers (and caretakers) who are more exposed to the virus than the general public. "The CDC is recommending that Americans wear a basic cloth or fabric mask, that can be either purchased online, or simply made at home, probably material that you'd have at home," Trump said. "The CDC is not recommending the use of medical grade or surgical grade masks. We want that to be used for our great medical people that are working so hard and doing some job." The new mask guidelines are not meant to replace any of the other recommendations the federal government has put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus, including social distancing, staying 6 feet apart, and washing your hands. Trump said he was not going to be following the federal guideline, though, because "I'm feeling good." "I dunno, somehow, I don't see it for myself. I just don't," he said. "Maybe I'll change my mind." Experts are concerned that homemade face coverings don't help and could even be harmful Generally, health experts are still skeptical that masks will do a lot to prevent more people from getting sick. It's true that some people may shed the coronavirus before they show symptoms, unwittingly infecting others with COVID-19 by coughing, spitting, sputtering, or just breathing on them. But this is not the main way the virus is transmitted. "We have to look at is what is the main driver of this pandemic," World Health Organization Executive Director of Health Emergencies Mike Ryan told reporters on a call Friday. "We still believe the main driver of this pandemic is symptomatic individuals coughing or sneezing or contaminating surfaces or contaminating other individuals. Breaking that chain means ensuring that infected individuals are diagnosed and isolated, their contacts are traced and tracked and quarantined, and that people are cared for very quickly." What's more, textile experts remain concerned that homemade face coverings, which are crafted from woven fabrics made with yarns with pores between them, may not do nearly as much to protect people as surgical masks, which are usually manufactured from nonwoven filtration fabrics and may even be designed to trap virus particles inside. Clothes and scarves don't do that. "Homemade masks may give more peace of mind than actual physical protection," Emiel DenHartog, the associate director of the Textile Protection and Comfort Center at North Carolina State University, told Business Insider in an email. "In personal protection, it is generally not true that anything is better than nothing." Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology and a mask researcher at the University of Hong Kong's School of Public Health, who himself wears a mask when he goes out in public, said that staying home is still a better way to remain virus-free. "Social distancing would definitely be the best," Cowling told Business Insider. "I mean, if everybody stays in their home, then there's no way for the virus to spread."Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Filing for unemployment? Here's how to get started.