Face masks like Kate Hudson’s and Bella Hadid’s won’t prevent coronavirus

Celebrities are taking to social media to share pictures of themselves wearing surgical face masks during the current coronavirus outbreak, but experts are warning the public that masks aren’t as effective as we all think. 

As the deadly coronavirus continues to spread rapidly around the globe, everyone is frantically trying to prepare themselves for a global pandemic.

And that includes celebrities.

Kate Hudson and Bella Hadid took to Instagram to post pictures of themselves wearing surgical face masks while on board flights.

Hudson captioned her picture with: “Travel. 2020.”

Hadid simply posted a photo without a caption. Bold and straight to the point.

Even Gwyneth Paltrow took to social media, posting a picture wearing an Airinum mask ( a more upscale mask, which currently sold out), saying she’s “En route to Paris” and even joked about her 2011 movie ‘Contagion’ coming true.

Paltrow wrote: “Paranoid? Prudent? Panicked? Placid? Pandemic? Propaganda? Paltrow’s just going to go ahead and sleep with this thing on the plane. I’ve already been in this movie. Stay safe. Don’t shake hands. Wash hands frequently.”

Back in Australia, chemists and pharmacies have shared pictures of signs and empty shelves where face masks were once stocked.

Images from China show thousands of people wearing face masks too, to prevent themselves from catching the virus. But this raises the question: can a face mask actually protect you from the outbreak?

Can a face mask actually protect you from coronavirus?

The answer is actually a little more complicated than a simple yes or no; it depends on how it’s used and when it’s used.

We asked GP Dr Sam Hay for his professional medical opinion. He said,”We are still getting the full picture about how coronavirus is transmitted, but it’s highly likely that coughing, sneezing, and spluttering will spread the infection through the air. So that means we can easily breath the virus into our lungs.

Any disease outbreak seems to lead to a mass sale and use of facemasks. But do they really do anything?

The basic surgical facemask offers a good barrier to splashes of blood, mucous, and spit. It doesn’t have a full seal, so it offers only minor protection to the fine respiratory droplets we may be exposed to from breathing, coughing, and spluttering. In a nutshell it will only offer a small amount of protection.

The best protection comes from N95 or P2 masks. These will go a long way to filtering out the majority of particles, 95% in fact. BUT, and it’s an important but: they have to be fitted well and have a perfect seal, otherwise air leaks around the side and you’ll be breathing in unwanted particles in no time. So that means they’re next to useless for people with a beard.”

The downside with surgical masks is that they don’t prevent against smaller mist-like droplets and therefore aren’t effective in completely preventing the spread of coronavirus.

“Wearing a surgical mask helps you prevent sharing your germs if you’re sick,” hospital epidemiologist and infection prevention expert, Saskia Popescu, told CNN. “Surgical masks do not seal around the face.”

In the case of N95 face masks, doctors and health experts are specifically trained how to use them properly to ensure there’s no open space and the mask fits snugly against the face, while the general public isn’t. These types of masks only work if they fit properly, and aren’t suitable for children or people with facial hair. They can also make it more difficult for a person to breathe, which could pose possible health risks.

Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy has also confirmed earlier this week that there needn’t be any panic for Australians to wear face masks at this point in time.

“The only people who should wear masks in relation to this virus are those who are unwell and have had a relevant travel history,” Murphy said.

How to properly use a face mask

If you do opt to wear a mask, Healthline states it’s crucial to follow these adequate guidelines for proper mask-wearing:

  • Wear a facemask when coming within two metres of a sick person
  • Position the strings to keep the mask firmly in place over the nose, mouth, and chin. Try not to touch the mask again until you remove it
  • Wear a facemask before going near other people if you have the flu
  • If you have the flu and need to see the doctor, wear a facemask to protect others in the waiting area
  • Consider wearing a mask in crowded settings if the flu is widespread in your community or if you are at high risk for flu complications
  • When you’re done wearing the mask, throw it away and wash your hands, never reuse a facemask
  • Avoid putting your hands underneath the mask during the day

Other preventative methods

Sure, a mask can help decrease your chances of contracting the virus, but it’s also important to utilise other preventative measures. According to the World Health Organization, these include:

  • Regularly clean hands with soap and water (to be extra-vigilant, do this five-step washing method)
  • Use an alcohol-based hand rub
  • Cover nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or flexed elbow
  • Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms
  • Practise food safety i.e. thoroughly cook meat and eggs, wash hands between handling raw and cooked food
  • Avoid unprotected contact with live wild or farm animals
  • Stay home when you’re sick

Expert commentary for this article has been provided by General Practitioner Doctor Sam Hay, B Med Sci, MBBS (Hons), FRACGP, GDip Sport Med, Dip Child Health.

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