– Just weeks before the Surgeon General told people not to buy them due to a massive shortage
- Asian medical experts say surgical masks can slow the spread of coronavirus
- Advice comes weeks after US Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted: ‘Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! ‘
- George Gao, who works with the Chinese Center for Disease and Prevention, said masks can stop droplets that carry the virus
- He warned that droplets carry even when people are talking or breathing
Medical professionals in Asia are now saying that N95 face masks can help curb the spread of coronavirus – despite advice from the US Surgeon General that they shouldn’t be bought by the public amid mass shortages for doctors.
‘This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role — you’ve got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth,’ George Gao, who works with the Chinese Center for Disease and Prevention, told Science Magazine.
‘Many people have asymptomatic or presymptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others,’ Gao said.
In Asia, masks have become commonplace during the outbreak, but Americans were advised to only don them if they were already sick.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams urges the general public not to buy surgical masks
Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted: ‘Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus
KK Cheng, a public health expert at the University of Birmingham in the UK, thinks it’s common sense that wearing a mask would help protect more people from contracting coronavirus.
‘Just imagine you’re traveling in the New York [City] subway on a busy morning. If everyone wears a mask, I’m sure that it would reduce the transmission,’ Cheng said.
He continued: ‘It’s not to protect yourself. It’s to protect people against the droplets coming out of your respiratory tract… I don’t want to frighten you, but when people speak and breathe and sing —you don’t have to sneeze or cough — these droplets are coming out.’
Another expert says if it’s practical for doctors and nurses to wear masks to protect themselves from viruses, then why wouldn’t the same logic apply for everyone else?
‘It doesn’t make sense to imagine that … surgical masks are really important for health care workers but then not useful at all for the general public,’ Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, told Science Magazine. ‘I think the average person, if they were taught how to wear a mask properly … would have some protection against infection in the community.’
As of March 28, nearly the U.S. has nearly 124,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including more than 2,100 deaths from the virus
Still, not all experts agree that the surgical masks belong on the faces of people who aren’t infected with coronavirus.
On February 28, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams made a plea to the general public on Twitter: ‘Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and out community at risk.’
But warnings like these are meant to prevent a shortage of masks for medical professionals. Some hospitals have run so low on supplies they’re accepting home sewn masks from volunteers.
In Tennessee medical staff were warning they may have to use diapers as an alternative to masks while researchers from Duke University have found a way to sanitize the N95 masks to make them reusable during the shortage.
Arnold Monto, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, says they could make a huge difference to the spread of the virus.
‘We know that standard surgical face masks will have a modest effect on that kind of transmission,’ he said.
‘When you combine [masks] with other approaches, then they may make a difference.’