A face mask isn’t necessarily the proper shield from coronavirus, the New Mexico Department of Health says.
Department officials emphasized last week that healthy people have no need to wear face masks to protect themselves from the virus. Instead, officials said, they should simply wash their hands and cover their coughs.
State epidemiologist Michael Landen said while health care professionals and people who have confirmed cases of the respiratory virus now called COVID-19 should wear masks to prevent droplet spread, it’s ineffective for healthy people.
“With the increase in media attention, there seems to be a run on purchasing face masks,” he said, referring to other states. “For people who are well, it’s not the right prevention measure.”
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The recommendations echo guidelines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in January that emphasize the risk of contracting the virus in the U.S. remains low.
As of Saturday, there were more than 66,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,400 deaths, mostly in mainland China. The number of U.S. COVID-19 cases remained unchanged at 15, according to the CDC. There were no reported cases in New Mexico. —
Secretary Kathy Kunkel said the the New Mexico Department of Health is vigilant, has a stock of personal protection equipment such as masks and respirators, and is ready to adapt to a fluid situation. She said the department has sufficient supplies of equipment, although she didn’t not clarify how much is stocked or for whom it is intended.
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“I wish I could reassure everyone in the state to be as comfortable with our situation right now,” she said. “But it’s on the news and people are concerned.”
Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters face masks are not as effective as hand-washing in a Jan. 30 briefing.
“We don’t routinely recommend the use of face masks by the public to prevent respiratory illness,” she said. “And we certainly are not recommending that at this time for this new virus.”
Despite the CDC’s guidelines, face masks are one of the world’s hottest commodities right now.
MarketWatch reported Alibaba-owned Chinese retailer Taobao reported more than 80 million sales of face masks a day. The company urged sellers not to increase the price of masks despite the spike in demand.
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—— The last official pandemic was the H1N1 swine flu in 2009, and while the deaths weren’t significantly higher than most flu years, the disease did affect a younger population.