The Investigators: Will a face mask protect you from coronavirus?

The CDC and doctors say masks are unnecessary and not recommended

The Investigators: Will a face mask protect you from coronavirus?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Mid-South retailers say they can’t keep face masks on store shelves because people believe the masks will protect them from coronavirus.

The WMC Action News 5 Investigators went into a Memphis pharmacy and home improvement store where nearly all face masks and respirators were sold out.

“There’s some issue with the supplies of those things and it’s probably not helpful for everybody to run out and buy boxes of masks,” said Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, an infectious disease doctor at Baptist Memorial Hospital. “A mask alone has never really been shown to protect healthy people from this sort of thing including the current coronavirus.”

He showed the Investigators a surgical mask, like the one that’s flying off the shelves, and an N95 respirator.

The paper, surgical masks do not provide reliable protection from coronavirus or any other respiratory infection. They are mainly to protect other people from the respiratory emissions of the person wearing the mask.

While an N95 respiration is more reliable, it’s unlikely it will help most people because it requires a fit test to make sure it’s on properly and it must be kept sterile.

“It’s a little uncomfortable to wear for any duration of time, too,” said Threlkeld. “The average person walking around town in an N95 respirator mask is both unnecessary and probably wasteful because we do want to have enough in those situations where we need them for sure.”

Threlkeld says the best way to avoid infection is by proper and frequent hand washing.

The Centers for Disease Control does not recommend you wear either mask if you’re healthy but the agency does recommend you wear a mask if you are sick or are caring for someone sick while in close quarters.

The CDC also recommends minimal facial hair for men who want to wear a mask for proper sealing.

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