With coronavirus spreading, the wearing of respiratory masks has also increased.
Locally, Mayo Clinic Health System and Gundersen Health System have seen more patients wearing masks recently.
However, they say masks aren’t effective for those who are healthy.
“What masks truly do is they help you prevent spreading illness to other people,” said Khrystyne Lindgren, an M.D. at Mayo. “So, if you are already healthy, wearing the mask is not going to help prevent any sort of illness that you get. It’s essentially just wearing a mask for looks.”
Although, health officials say there are cases where wearing a mask is encouraged.
“Those that are actually ill with signs and symptoms of respiratory illness, those are the ones that we want to really be wearing the mask at this point in time,” said Brian Simmons a Gundersen infection control practitioner.
Respiratory illness symptoms include spiking a fever, coughing, and shortness of breath.
Medical professionals say those that are healthy and still choosing to wear medical masks may actually be making themselves more susceptible to viruses.
“If you are putting on a mask a lot and your hands haven’t been cleaned or you’re adjusting that mask as you are walking around, that can put yourself more at risk because you’re touching surfaces where viruses could live,” Simmons said.
Doctors say the best thing to do to prevent illness is to practice good hand-hygiene.
Kitchens, bathrooms, and doorknobs are also something to disinfect frequently.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, both health systems have seen an increase in the amount of masks taken, some stands even completely emptied.
“We’re seeing a lot of people use masks more frequently now,” Lindgren said. “Healthy people sitting in waiting rooms are wearing masks.”
While both hospitals are currently well stocked with masks, there is some worry of a potential shortage.
“The risk is that if we do run out of our supply of masks, those people who are sick and those of us who need them to prevent and take care of our sick population aren’t going to have the masks that we need,” said Lindren.
Both health systems say it is never too late to get the flu shot.