- The new coronavirus has infected over 82,000 people and killed over 2,800.
- Some preventative measures can help protect you from contracting the virus: Washing hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, and staying away from sick people are all recommended.
- But wearing a face mask is not necessarily an effective option for everyone.
- Here’s how to determine whether you should wear a mask.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
If you’re wondering whether you need a medical face mask to protect you from the new coronavirus, you probably don’t.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only recommends masks for a select group of people: Those in a region currently experiencing an outbreak, healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients, and anyone who experiences flu-like symptoms.
For the rest of us, preventative measures like washing your hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, and staying away from sick people are all probably more effective than wearing a mask.
Since the outbreak began Wuhan, China, in December, more than 82,000 people have been infected and at least 2,800 have died. Cases have been recorded in 49 other countries. Health agencies are working to contain outbreaks in South Korea, Italy, and Iran, while the US is also preparing for an uptick in cases. (For the latest case total and death toll, see Business Insider’s live updates here.)
The coronavirus spreads via droplets when people are within about 6 feet of one another. In healthcare settings, it also can spread via exposure to infected patients’ saliva, phlegm, blood, and respiratory droplets.
Here’s who needs to wear a face mask and who doesn’t.
There are two kinds of masks: surgical masks and N95 respirators.
N95 respirators filter out most airborne particles from the 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.
When worn correctly, N95 respirators block out at least 95% of small airborne particles, so the respirators can filter out some droplets carrying coronavirus. The coronavirus itself measures between .05 and 0.2 microns in diameter, according to an article in The Lancet.
Surgical masks, meanwhile, are designed to keep droplets and splatter from passing from a person’s mouth to nearby surfaces or people. They’re primarily meant as a physical barrier to keep healthcare providers or sick people from spreading their own mouth-borne germs. Research has shown that even people who get the coronavirus but don’t show symptoms can spread it.
If you live in an outbreak zone, you should wear a mask.
In China’s Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, local authorities have mandated that residents wear masks when they go outside, but they haven’t stipulated whether people wear surgical masks or respirators.
There are currently 65,596 cases in the province, and all residents are under quarantine.
In South Korea, which has over 1,260 coronavirus cases (the largest number outside of mainland China), the government has posted notices encouraging residents to wear masks in public and telling them that it is a “must” on public transportation.