Coronavirus prevention: Can masks and gloves protect you from getting covid-19? Experts say not really

Updated on: 18 March 2020, 16:10 pm IST

While a lot of us believe the myth that using masks and gloves can save us from getting infected by coronavirus, experts completely refute the misconception.

PTI
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Mask up well, and practice social distancing. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

Of late, a lot of us can be seen wearing masks–sometimes accompanied by gloves–each time we step out of our house. But are masks and gloves really effective when it comes to coronavirus prevention or are we just following herd mentality? Let’s hear what the experts have to say about it. 

While near-total lockdowns have been imposed in Italy, Spain and now France, the World Health Organizations advice has remained unchanged since the start of the global outbreak: wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and keep your distance. And masks aren’t really a part of the memo. 

So, how effective are masks according to the WHO?
The WHO says it is advisable to wear a protective mask in public if you suspect you are infected or someone you are caring for is–in which case the advice is to stay home whenever possible.

novel coronavirus
Is it enough to place your bet on a N95 mask? Image courtesy: Shutterstock.

“There are limits to how a mask can protect you from being infected and we’ve said the most important thing everyone can do is wash your hands, keep your hands away from your face, observe very precise hygiene,” said WHO’s emergencies director Mike Ryan.

What are the repercussions of excessive mask usage?
The advice is all the more urgent given the WHO’s estimate that health workers worldwide will need at least 89 million masks every month to treat COVID-19 cases.

There are already shortages of masks for medical professionals around the world, a problem that could get worse as the pandemic drags on.

But the message about masks hasn’t reached everyone. “I’m surprised to see through the window in my ministry lots of people in the street wearing masks when that doesn’t correspond to our recommendations,” French health minister Olivier Veran said Monday.

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The physical and mental threats of mask’s ‘precautionary’ usage
As well as hoarding stocks sorely needed by medical professionals, experts say masks can give people who wear them a false sense of security.

For example, many people who wear them don’t follow the official advice of washing their hands thoroughly first, ensuring it’s airtight and not to touch it once it’s on.

“People are always readjusting their masks and that has the potential to contaminate them,” said France’s head of health, Jerome Salomon. “If someone has come across the virus, it’s surely going to be on the mask.” 

Gloves, similarly, don’t greatly heighten protection and could even end up making you sick. “If people cannot stop touching their face, gloves will not serve a purpose,” Amesh Adalja, from Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told AFP.

soap and sanitizer
Washing hands is another alternative to prevent coronavirus. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Why are gloves ineffective in coronavirus prevention?
A 2015 study in the American Journal of Infection Control found that people touch their faces on average 20 times an hour.

The novel coronavirus is transmitted via skin contact, transferring infected globules of mucus via the ears, eyes or nose. “Gloves are not a substitute for washing your hands,” said Adalja, adding that surgical gloves should only be used in a medical setting.

Plus, Veran says:

If you’re wearing gloves you’re not washing your hands.

Masks and gloves can’t completely prevent us from coronavirus. Although they can be effective as an additional measure for people exposed to coronavirus, it isn’t completely effective and viable for healthy citizens. 

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