• Fact Check: Can Face Masks Protect Against New Coronavirus?

Medical personnel, along with ordinary citizens, mask up
Medical personnel, along with ordinary citizens, mask up

Face masks commonly used in South Korea to prevent against spreading a cold or the flu or blocking out fine dust in the air are now being worn as a necessary protective measure against the new coronavirus.

But just how effective are these face masks in blocking a coronavirus infection?

Ron Chang from the tbs eFM News Desk joins us in the studio to check the facts. Hello, Ron. Thanks for joining us.

We should start off by talking about how this new strain of virus is transmitted.


The World Health Organization says human-to-human transmission is either via respiratory droplets or close contact.

The agency issued guidance on the outbreak that said any person that is within one meter of someone who has symptoms such as cough and fever is at risk of being exposed to potentially infective respiratory droplets.


We've been hearing mixed advice on the usage of masks. U.S. health authorities say they are not very effective.

What's the view from South Korean health officials?


The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has always advised the use of masks to prevent infectious diseases such as influenza.

And this was emphasized after confirmed cases of the new coronavirus were reported outside of China in mid-January -- that's also when the first confirmed case was reported in South Korea.


There have been some experts saying that the face masks that most people are wearing, whether surgical masks or for fine dust, don't do enough because the eyes are still uncovered. There's also the issue of masks being worn incorrectly.

They should fit close to the face and cover the bridge of the nose at the top and extend under the chin.


This is confirmed by Professor Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases specialist at Australian National University's Medical School of Health and Medicine.

[Clip: Senanayake: 00:18]
"Surgical masks do prevent the spread of droplets of viruses such as coronaviruses, so they do have a role to play. But at the same time, the mask has to be worn properly. That seems like an obvious thing to say but masks aren't often worn properly and they don't work."


Most health authorities, including the WHO, say masks are just one preventative measure to limit the spread of the virus, but alone, don't provide sufficient protection.

They all say good hygiene, especially washing your hands and covering coughs properly, and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces are just as important.


Then Ron, which masks are recommended?


Here in Korea, the KCDC recommends masks with the "KF" mark, which stands for Korea Filter.

They are certified by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.

The higher the number after the KF, the better the mask will protect you.

What's not recommended is using the same mask two days in a row because there is the possibility the coronavirus could've latched on to it.


These are all important things to know. Thank you. That was Ron Chang reporting.■

<Image: Yonhap News>
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