Do masks help protect against coronavirus? How long can it live on surfaces?

Dr. Frank McGeorge answers viewer question about coronavirus

Local 4's Dr. Frank McGeorge answers questions about the coronavirus

DETROIT – There’s a lot of information and misinformation out there about the coronavirus, so Local 4 is letting viewers submit questions so we can find verified answers.

Click here if you want to submit a question about the coronavirus.

Dr. Frank McGeorge wants to verify or refute any information about the coronavirus, but there are also some questions experts still don’t know the answer to. McGeorge is discussing them because acknowldging what we don’t know is just as important as verifying information so people don’t rely on incorrect answers.


Masks are becoming a hot commodity during the coronavirus outbreak, but viewers from Eastpointe and elsewhere want to know if it’s been verified that they have any effect when it comes to the disease.

The answer is yes, but it depends.

If you’re sick, especially if you have a cough or are sneezing, an ordinary mask helps block your infected aerosol droplets from spreading in the air around you or onto surfaces.

If you’re a healthy person who doesn’t want to get sick, ordinary masks aren’t considered especially helpful.

Tight-fitting N-95 masks are used in the hospital, and they can protect you if they’re worn correctly.

An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in September 2019 suggested that N-95 masks aren’t more helpful in terms of preventing influenza. That can’t be directly extrapolated to COVID-19, and doctors still wear N-95 masks when treating sick patients, but for the average person in a lower-risk situation, they might not be any more effective if they aren’t used properly.

Coronavirus on surfaces

Viewers from Mount Clemens and St. Clair Shores have heard coronavirus can survive on surfaces and want to know if it could live on a package that traveled in a shipping container.

Experts don’t know the specific answer for COVID-19, but a paper published Jan. 31 in the Journal of Hospital Infection found that other coronaviruses can persist on surfaces such as metal, glass or plastic for up to nine days with the right temperature and humidity.

Surfaces were easily disinfected with 62% to 100% alcohol and low concentration bleach.

As far as coronavirus surviving on shipped packages, expert consensus is that shipping time and environments would kill the virus, so there’s no risk for international products.

Two critical elements to decrease transmission of any virus are personal protection and hygiene, as well as limiting spread in the environment. Attention to disinfecting surfaces, especially in commonly touched public areas, will be critical.

About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.