5 On Your Side

5 On Your Side explains why health officials want you to stop buying face masks

Posted March 2, 2020 6:11 p.m. EST

— Across the world, people are seen wearing masks, hoping to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

In the United States, the message is coming loud and clear: Stop buying them.

Dr. David Weber, the medical director of infection prevention at UNC Hospitals, said people should leave the masks for those who really need them.

"At this point, I would not recommend the public run out and buy masks since you know they're largely in short supply," Weber said. "We need to conserve the masks for those who really need them."

The masks help protect medical staff or patients sick with the flu or who have compromised immune systems, like cancer patients.

The World Health Organization and the U.S. Surgeon General stress that people not panic and not hoard face masks.

"The worried well, I would say, should really not be wearing these masks,” Weber said.

Weber said most hospitals have a supply of masks.

“Even in a worst-case scenario, there is a government stockpile designed for biothreats and other agents that does have mask and ventilators and other materials in them, and that could be released in a true national emergency," he said.

Health experts say surgical masks offer minimal protection from small airborne particles. For that, you need an N95-rated particulate respirator.

"The N95s really are extra protection," Weber said. "We wear them for known airborne transmitted diseases."

To protect yourself from the coronavirus and other viruses, health experts advise staying at least 3 feet away from anyone who coughs and sneezes and, most importantly, wash your hands often.

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