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Surgical Masks: Why Health Experts Say They Won’t Protect You From COVID-19

Flu disease virus spreading protection mask protective against influenza viruses and diseases. Asian woman wearing surgical mask on face in public spaces. Healthcare.
Flu disease virus spreading protection mask protective against influenza viruses and diseases. Asian woman wearing surgical mask on face in public spaces. Healthcare.

Fears over catching novel coronavirus, officially named COVID-19 this month by the World Health Organization (WHO), has people across the globe scrambling to buy surgical masks for protection. Residents in China have been spotted waiting outside of local pharmacies for hours in hopes of getting a mask. So many people have taken this precaution, in fact, that reports of mask shortages in hospitals and medical facilities are starting to cause alarm.  

Surgical masks have become such a hot commodity that scammers are looking to take advantage of the situation by controlling supply. Media sources reported that 6,000 surgical masks were stolen in Japan on Tuesday. The masks were later discovered for sale online at outrageous prices that consumers were willing to pay. 

The world has turned upside down to get their hands on these simple strips of cloth. But can surgical masks really prevent people from getting COVID-19? Some doctors are saying no.  

Why Surgical Masks May Not Protect You  

The first shortage of surgical masks was reported in China about a month ago, according to an article by The Washington Post. At this time, only 400 cases and nine deaths from COVID-19 had been reported. But because Chinese officials were urging residents to wear masks as a method of containment, surgical masks were already flying off of the shelves.  

With the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 surpassing 80,350 as of February 25, the demand for surgical masks has only become worse. Photos and videos of people sporting surgical masks around the world are encouraging more and more people to seek out these products for protection. When local stores are sold out, consumers are paying obscene prices for the masks still available online.  

As industrial giants work overtime to produce more masks, some experts are skeptical that they provide protection at all. According to scientists and medical professionals interviewed by Business Insider, surgical masks are designed to prevent large particles and droplets from spreading pathogens. Small droplets containing pathogens are still capable of getting through; small droplets similar to the ones that make up COVID-19.  

One assistant professor from the University of Alberta suggested that wearing a surgical mask could put you at more of a risk for developing novel coronavirus. If a surgical mask comes in contact with droplets of COVID-19, the virus can live on the surface of the mask for a minimum of a few hours and up to a week. This would put the individual who is wearing the mask at risk of catching the virus for as long as they wear the infected mask, as well as exposing others around them who could come in contact with the mask.  

How To Protect Yourself (Without A Mask) 

Thankfully, masks are not the only method of reducing your risk for contracting COVID-19. WHO promotes several safety precautions proven to be more effective than surgical masks for protecting your family, including:  

  • Washing your hand frequently with soap and water.  
  • Using alcohol-based hand rub.  
  • Practice good respiratory hygiene. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing or coughing. Throw the tissue away immediately and wash your hands.  
  • Keep your distance from people who are sick, actively coughing, sneezing, or who have a fever. It’s not personal, just preventative.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth throughout the day.  
  • Do not travel to areas with active outbreaks of COVID-19.  
  • Avoid the consumption of raw or undercooked foods.    

Stay Informed About COVID-19 

News about COVID-19 will continue to change as researchers delve deeper into the virus. Unfortunately, widespread panic surrounding COVID-19 is leading some sources to spread false information about what is really going on with the outbreak.  

Stay informed on COVID-19 and the proven effective safety methods for reducing your risk by reviewing credible resources such as these:  

The COVID-19 outbreak has created a level of fear and uncertainty across the globe that most of us have never experienced before. As health advocates, we believe everyone should stay informed about topics in the medical field that can assist them in making educated decisions about their health. Be prepared and stay safe. 

NYC Health and Safety Advocates and Medical Malpractice Lawyers 

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury or illness due to medical negligence, our winning team of medical malpractice lawyers is here to fight for your rights. The law firm of Pazer Epstein Jaffe Fein & Gozenput, P.C. has been successfully advocating for NYC patients for over 60 years. 

Contact us using our convenient online form or feel free to phone us in New York at 212-227-1212, or in Huntington/Long Island at 631-864-2429.


“Coronavirus: Thieves steal 6,000 surgical masks in Japan amid shortage.” The Straits Times. (Retrieved February 21, 2020)https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/coronavirus-thieves-steal-6000-surgical-masks-in-japan-amid-shortage 

Fifield, Anna. “Chinese officials try to contain virus outbreak as first case confirmed in U.S.” The Washington Post. (Retrieved February 21, 2020)https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/chinese-officials-urge-people-not-to-travel-in-and-out-of-city-at-center-of-virus-outbreak/2020/01/21/60680d3e-3c2d-11ea-afe2-090eb37b60b1_story.html 

Abadai, Mark. “Demand for face masks is surging because of the coronavirus — but doctors say wearing one isn’t the safest thing you can do.” Business Insider. (Retrieved February 21, 2020) https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-face-mask-safe-prevention-2020-2 

“Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public.” World Health Organization. (Retrieved February 21, 2020) https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public 

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