No firecrackers, no dragon dances, but masks everywhere. On New Year’s Day, Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, is as good as dead. The rare passers who can be seen on the streets are covering their faces with protective masks that were made compulsory by the government. Others who were venturing outside and who have been in quarantine since the 23rd of January are stocking up on masks and disinfectants in the few supermarkets that are still open.
Faced with the coronavirus epidemic, many people from all over the world rushed to use these protective masks causing shortages in many countries.
Epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists have warned against panic as the number of cases related to the new coronavirus in China continues to rise. Some warn that the widespread fight over face masks is unjustified. Additionally, panic leads to people hoarding masks that they don’t need causing shortages for those that actually need them.
Masks are not 100% Effective
The World Health Organization recommends covering the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing to prevent the spread of infection. According to the CDC, the coronavirus 2019-nCoV is transmitted through airborne droplets (sneezing and coughing). However, these masks are not “100% effective” because the mask is not tightly fitted to the face, which allows unfiltered air to enter and in most cases, the virus, can pass through as well. Moreover, these surgical paper masks are designed to only filter out 95% of particles greater than 0.3 micrometers whereas coronaviruses are much smaller as they average in size only around 0,1 micrometers.
Still, these masks can have a role in stopping the spread of this virus, if used by those who are already infected in order to not infect those around them.
To be effective, a surgical mask must be replaced several times a day. It has a lifespan of three to four hours,” said virologist David Boutolleau.
For more effective protection, there are also masks called “personal respirators” (type FFP2), consisting of a mask and a filter.
For some doctors, a mask can even be counterproductive. Julie Vaishampayan, a physician and chairman of the Public Health Committee of the American Society for Infectious Diseases, told the New York Times “We fear that people think that they are more protected by the mask than they actually are.” Another American expert, Amesh Adalja, added: “Most people put their hand under the mask to scratch their face or rub their nose. “
As the CDC recalls on its website, the most effective prescriptions are still the good old ones:
- Use a disposable tissue when you cough or sneeze
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Stay home when sick
- Avoid sick people
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly