Science Alert: Medical face masks have become the enduring image of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Chinese officials have urged citizens to don masks to curb the spread of the deadly disease, which has infected more than 31,000 people in China and killed more than 1,100. But doctors say face masks aren’t as effective as most people think – and there are better ways to protect yourself from the virus. The coronavirus outbreak has fuelled intense demand for face masks in China, where people often wait in line for hours at pharmacies in hopes of buying one. There’s no vaccine yet to prevent the spread of coronavirus from person to person, and many think that wearing a mask will be protect them.
But that’s not necessarily the case, according to scientists and doctors studying the disease.
Surgical masks are typically more useful to people who are already sick because it prevents them from spreading an infection to others.
Standard surgical masks are designed to block large particles and droplets, not small virus particles, and they’re typically loose-fitting with gaps around the nose, mouth, and chin. More robust respirator masks can be more effective at protecting against viruses but only if they are individually fitted to form a tight seal.