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Can a face mask protect you from coronavirus? Only if you get the right kind

por Ina Spofforth (2020-02-04)


id="article-body" class="row" section="article-body"> Kevin Frayer/Getty Images Walk around any crowded area during flu season and you'll see a common sight: people wearing medical face masks to protect themselves from pollution, germs and other contaminants. With the outbreak of a new coronavirus, these face masks are flying off the shelves in almost every drugstore. But do they really work?

4166912695_c1cf57a217_b.jpgRead more: Coronavirus fact check: How to spot fake reports about the mysterious disease

Although disposable face masks block large particles from entering your mouth, a more tight-fitting N95 respirator mask is far more effective at protecting you from airborne illnesses. Though the risk of contracting coronavirus in the US and other western countries is very small, if you really want Formula to Calculate Fahrenheit to Celsius prevent viral infections, your best bet is take all of the precautions you can -- including frequent hand washing and avoiding other sick people.

As of January 31, 2020, both face masks and N95 respirator masks are hard to find online, especially on Amazon and Walmart.com. Many options are either sold out, or are sold by third-party sellers for steep prices. You might have better luck heading to your local drugstore for surgical face masks and your local hardware store for N95 masks.

Face mask vs. respirator
This NIOSH-approved N95 respirator will prevent airborne particles from entering.

Ardec If you've ever been to the dentist, surgical face masks will look familiar -- healthcare professionals use them to prevent the splashing of fluids into their mouths. They're loose-fitting and allow airborne particles in. People commonly wear face masks in East Asian countries to protect themselves from smog and respiratory diseases, but these masks aren't designed to block tiny particles from the air.

A face mask's main purpose is to keep out the liquid of another infected person's sneeze or cough from entering your mouth or nose (gross, I know). Wearing one can protect you from getting sick if you're in close contact with someone who is ill and also help prevent you from spreading your illness to someone else. Face masks can also help prevent hand-to-mouth viral transmissions, because you can't directly touch your own mouth while wearing one. However, virologists say that surgical face masks cannot block airborne viruses from entering your body. 

For that you'll need a respirator, a tight-fitting protective device worn around the face. When people say "respirator", they're usually referring to the N95 respirator. The N95 respirator gets its name from the fact that it blocks at least 95% of tiny particles. Several brands manufacture N95 respirators, and they come in all different sizes. When shopping for this kind of mask, be sure the packaging says "N95" -- some masks will only say "respirator" but if they aren't marked as N95, you won't get the full level of protection. 

Dr. Michael Hall, a CDC vaccine provider, tells CNET in an email that N95 respirators are the most protective, but that surgical masks can be worn when taking public transport or entering crowded areas to help protect you from other people's coughs and sneezes.

N95 masks are tricky to put on, so make sure you watch a video or check out a guide on how to fit one to your face. Hall says that the key is to wear the mask firmly around your nose and mouth without any gaps. And once it's on, leave it on -- a respirator that's only worn sometimes isn't nearly as effective.