The public doesn’t need to wear heavy-duty respirators, but it’s a smart idea to don a face mask or wrap a clean scarf around your nose and mouth if you’re going into a crowded place during the COVID-19 outbreak, an infectious disease doctor told Live Science.
This advice on face masks (also known as surgical masks) goes against recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which say that people who are not sick do not need to wear face masks unless they are caring for someone who is ill with the new coronavirus. It also goes against the advice of other infectious disease doctors Live Science interviewed.
That said, the public does not need to wear face masks most of the time, said Dr. Otto Yang, a professor in the Department of Medicine and the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
If you’re out for a walk — in essence, going to a setting where you can be at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) from other people, “then I think that not having a mask is fine and that fits the CDC recommendations,” Yang said.
But, in his opinion, “If you have to be in a crowded situation, perhaps on a plane or waiting in line at the airport, it might make sense to wear a mask,” Yang told Live Science.
The discussion about face masks has become a national conversation. Many people in the public are buying face masks to protect themselves. But health care experts have urged against hoarding, since these supplies are desperately needed in hospitals. Even the U.S. surgeon general tweeted “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!”
“The CDC, it’s like they’re talking out of both sides of their mouth,” Yang said. “One side of their mouth is telling the general public, ‘Hey, you don’t need masks, forget about it.’ The other side is, ‘Health care workers need to wear N95 respirators.'”
“Is that a double standard?” Yang said. “Are they valuing some people more than others?”