As coronavirus has quickly spread across the world, so too has the use of face masks.
During a pandemic, putting on a mask may be the first thing you think to do in order to protect yourself. But public health researchers have no concrete evidence yet that masks alone significantly reduce a healthy person’s chances of getting sick.
And if healthy people buy and use up large quantities of masks, there won't be enough for sick people, who are mostly likely to spread the disease, or for frontline health workers, who more frequently come into contact with the COVID-19 virus as they care for the severely ill.
Experts estimate health care systems in the US will need 3.5 billion masks -- quite a bit more than than the national stockpile of about 42 million. But if every person in the U.S. were to wear one mask each day, we'd need a supply nearing 10 billion for just one month.
"The most important use of masks is for our health care workers," Dr. Tom Frieden, the president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives and former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tells Newsy. "That will protect them, so they're there for us. And it will protect other patients as well, preventing them from getting infected."
The CDC only recommends that people who are sick and their caregivers wear masks. When masks are unavailable, a scarf or bandana can be used. But more importantly, Frieden urges sick people to just stay home.
"If you're sick, don't go out. Don't expose others. Even if you're only mildly sick, your illness may kill somebody else."