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UW pandemic expert: Should we all be wearing masks during coronavirus?

Production of protective masks has ramped up across the globe. (Getty Images)

An ongoing issue during the coronavirus outbreak is whether people should be wearing masks to protect themselves and others against the spread of the virus.

A recent report by the Washington Post found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering a plan to urge Americans to cover their faces if they go out to slow the spread.

While initially the CDC said masks should be preserved for caregivers, should everyone now be wearing them when they go out? Dr. Peter Rabinowitz is the Director of the MetaCenter for Pandemic Preparedness & Global Health at the University of Washington, and joined the Gee and Ursula Show.

“First of all, just to reinforce that we have to prioritize masks for the health care workers and the first responders, people at the front lines who absolutely need the best protection. We don’t want to do anything to interfere with them getting the protection they need,” he said.

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“We previously didn’t push masks a lot because we said the risk is low in the general population, there’s not much transmission going on,” Rabinowitz said. “Now, we have a sense that there’s a much more substantial amount of community transmission going on, and so that I think we should reevaluate masks. I think that if somebody feels like they want to wear a mask, it is probably not providing a great amount of protection. But it may provide some, and that’s a good thing.”

Rabinowitz noted that if more people started wearing masks, there would be less of a stigma for those who are wearing them already, since there’s often a mistaken assumption that those wearing masks are sick.

“But if more people wore a mask, then there wouldn’t be that stigma, which is great. And so I think because of getting possible protection from even a homemade mask, or just one that doesn’t interfere with the health care supply, you might be giving yourself some protection, and you’re reducing stigma, and that’s a good thing.”

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That said, he hopes that if people do start wearing masks, they don’t give themselves a false sense of security, and still maintain the regular protections.

“The thing that you’ve got to be careful with is that if you’re touching your face all the time, you may be really negating the effect of the mask,” he said. “You don’t want to give yourself a false sense of security and wear a mask and then just go up and get really close to a whole bunch of people and interfere with the social distancing measures.”

“So there’s there’s some downsides you’ve got to be aware of. But on balance, I think there’s growing thinking that there could be some advantages to just making it a more common thing to see people on the street with masks.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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