DETROIT – With concerns about the coronavirus increasing, masks are flying off store shelves in the United States and parts of Asia.
But do the masks people are buying really protect them from the virus?
Doctors wear masks all the time at the hospital. It’s generally during procedures in which they don’t want to accidentally contaminate a wound or a sterile area with germs.
There are circumstances in which doctors wear the masks for their own protection, though, such as when a patient has tuberculosis. In general, those masks are special and tighter-fitting. They’re rated as N95, meaning they block 95% of a very small test particle.
Those masks come in different sizes, and doctors go through testing to see what size they need.
The point is those N95 masks are specifically tight-hitting, while other, looser masks have a role in infection protection, but are mainly to stop large droplets or splatter that might contain germs.
Most studies show that loose-fitting masks don’t provide much protection for small viruses that remain airborne.
The looser masks prevent wearers’ coughs or sneezes from infecting others and help remind people not to touch their own faces with contaminated hands. That’s a leading way that germs are transferred from surfaces into respiratory tracts.
The bottom line: Loose masks protect you from large droplets and help you avoid touching your face. But to really protect yourself, you need a tighter-fitting mask that’s fitted and often far less comfortable.