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Should we all wear face masks... sick or not?

02 April 2020 in Health

Recent study results suggest that more people may be spreading the coronavirus than previously thought.

Media reports quote experts in the US and Iceland as saying that as many as 25 to 50% of people infected with the coronavirus don’t have symptoms.

This suggests that people could be spreading the virus without knowing it.

One study questioned how far the virus can spread.

The coronavirus is known to be spread in droplets that we breathe out, cough or sneeze into the air. It's thought that those droplets then either evaporate or drop on the ground.

But the study by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that these droplets are released in clouds of gas that stay in the air for longer and travel further than we think -- as far as 8 metres.

Current guidelines on physical distancing are set based on the virus travelling up to 2 metres (6 feet).

This new insight has got experts questioning current advice around wearing face masks when out in public and led to the World Health Organization (WHO) reviewing their guidance.

But the WHO concluded that their existing advice still stands that people who are sick, as well as frontline health workers and people caring for someone with the coronavirus, should wear face masks. Everyone else should stick to washing their hands regularly, keeping a distance from others and avoiding touching their face.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, however, has changed its guidance.

And a group of experts argued there are benefits to the public wearing masks in a recent article in the BMJ.

The CDC is asking everyone to cover their nose and mouth with a cloth when they're out in public -- in case they are infected. This is in addition to physical distancing.

But the agency adds that this doesn't apply to children under 2, or anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.


If you think you may have coronavirus, you can use our COVID-19 Symptom Mapper to check your symptoms and compare them with others around the world.

This should give you a better understanding of how the illness is affecting you and will help us to map the spread of the outbreak.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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