Updated: Mar 19, 2020
The CDC tweeted out, "Seriously folks, stop buying masks" due to the run on face masks at local stores. "Save these for health professionals who really need them." I get it, but unfortunately face masks will minimize the spread of SARS-CoV-2 more than washing and disinfecting your hands. Let me explain and I'll try to make this simple...
This novel beta-coronavirus is apparently a mutation of a bat coronavirus. The mutation is in the binding protein region of the virus and causes it to latch onto a specific protein on the surface of human cells. This protein is called angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2). The virus recognizes and attaches to this protein on your cells and then injects the mRNA into your cell which then takes over the cell. These ACE2 proteins are present in high concentrations on lung alveolar epithelial cells. These are the cells which make up the lung tissue and allow you to transfer oxygen into your blood. It's how you actually breathe the air. The virus gets in via inhalation of small droplets of water containing virus particles. You cannot inhale a virus off your skin or get infected by putting your infected fingers into your lungs. Infection is caused by breathing in the virus particles.
A properly fitted N95 face mask, will eliminate 95% of most particulate matter including water droplets, thereby leaving the virus on the outside fabric of your face mask, not in your lungs. Face masks do two important things: 1) it protects you from infection and 2) it protects others if you are already infected with the coronavirus, but are not exhibiting symptoms. Originally, it was believed that those without symptoms do not spread the virus. However, more recently it's become apparent that many people can be infected and exposing others to coronavirus without symptoms. A good case in point is the Biogen conference in MA, where people without obvious symptoms were actively spreading the virus. So if we want to protect ourselves from infection and also not infect others, just wear a face mask. If you cannot find one in stores, you can make it with a couple of paper towels, facial tissue and a rubber band. Just google it.
I have been following the mis-information on face masks, and one epidemiologist was saying masks don't work because people don't use them properly. So why do they suggest we don't use them instead of educating us on their proper use and disposal? The exposure to this coronavirus, seems to be related to the severity of the disease. Thus a high percentage of health care workers and doctors are becoming ill and dying. If using a mask helps protect those who work around high viral loads from sick patients, then why shouldn't a properly fitted mask protect us from 1) others who are shedding virus particles in the air and 2) cause less release of virus particles in the air if we are experiencing no symptoms or just mildly ill with the coronavirus.
So the bottom line is find a mask (or make a mask) and wear it whenever you are around people in a public place. This will protect you and also protect them. This will slow down the spread of this coronavirus and perhaps save lives if not your own. I always wear a face mask when in public places and since I am often the only person wearing a face mask, and I get strange looks from others, I created this article which I had out to others which gives 10 specific reasons why I am wearing a face mask (and they should to), since the CDC and CDHPE is not advocating face masks to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2. To get a copy of my handout, go to the Coronavirus page and click the link at the bottom of the page..