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Can wearing a face mask protect you from the new coronavirus?
If it is a medical disposable face mask, the answer is no, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, told Live Science.
A more specialized mask, known as an N95 respirator, can protect against the new coronavirus, also called SARS-CoV-2. The respirator is thicker than a surgical face mask, but neither Schaffner nor the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) recommend it for public use, at least not at this point.
That's because, in the part, it is challenging to put on these kind of masks and wear them for a long time, he said.
Specialists receive retraining annually on how to properly fit these respirators around the nose, cheeks and chin, ensuring that wearers don't breathe around the edges of the respirator. "When you do that, it turns out that the work of breathing, since you're going through a very thick material, is harder. You have to work to breathe in and out. Schaffner said.
"I know that I can wear them when I need to for about a half-hour," he added. "But then, I have to go out of the isolation room, take it off and take some deep breaths, kind of cool off, before I can go back in."
While it still might be possible to snag an N95 respirator online, Schaffner advised against it. If too many people unnecessarily stockpile respirators, a shortage could put the health of medical workers and those who need them at risk, Schaffner said.