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Why shouldn't we wear face masks to stop coronavirus?

Several people asked why health authorities tell the public that masks don’t work for coronavirus, but they are needed for medical staff.

DENVER — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have stressed repeatedly that a healthy person should not wear a mask for coronavirus prevention. Federal and local health authorities urge people to wash their hands to protect themselves against COVID-19.

At the same time, the CDC tells the public to save masks for doctors and other medical staff.

And that leads us to today's Next Question: Several people wanted to know why health authorities tell the public masks don’t work for coronavirus, but they are needed for medical staff.

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We checked with 9NEWS Health Expert Dr. Payal Kohli for an explanation:

Following the surgeon general Dr. Jerome Adams’ tweet on Sunday saying “STOP BUYING MASKS,” there was some confusion about why he followed it up by saying, "If healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

So, here are the facts…

Surgical Masks are not recommended at this time by the CDC to prevent transmission of coronavirus. This is because surgical masks, which are largely ineffective in preventing transmission of COVID-19, are relatively loose-fitting and only protect from large respiratory droplets. They are not effective in filtering or protecting against small respiratory droplets that are can carry coronavirus and cause infection. Some experts believe that the masks may actually increase the risk of transmission due to improper use, more frequent touching of face to reposition the mask, and a false sense of security of protection, making it less likely that you would wash your hands.

Healthcare personnel are recommended to wear full protective gear (including an N95 respirator, which requires a fit test and training on how to wear) when caring for a person with known or suspected coronavirus.

But if the masks are not effective at preventing coronavirus transmission, why did Dr. Adams say that the healthcare community needs them? 

Although the exact intention of his message is somewhat unclear, it seems Dr. Adams may have been referring to other uses of the surgical masks, which include protection of healthcare staff from patients who may have other non-corona respiratory viruses, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), parainfluenza, adenovirus or rhinovirus. He may also have been referring to other uses of the surgical mask, such as medical procedures and operating room surgeries that need masks to maintain a sterile environment.

Adams said the same for himself on Fox News on Monday. "Folks who don't know how to wear them properly tend to touch their faces a lot and actually can increase the spread of coronavirus," he said.

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Have a question about something else that you'd like an answer to? Email Next@9news.com.

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