A German army shipment of six million face masks needed to protect against the novel coronavirus has vanished in Kenya, the defence ministry in Berlin confirmed Tuesday.

To mask or not to mask, that is the question. But scientists now think you may want to put a face mask on it after all — if you have one.

Their advice is laid out in a new report in Science Magazine. People in Asian countries have been wearing masks for months, which the head of the Chinese Center for Disease and Prevention supports.

In the US, face masks are in short supply and government officials want the rapidly dwindling supply saved for health-care professionals.

“This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role —you’ve got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth,” the Chinese Center’s George Gao told the magazine.

“Many people have asymptomatic or presymptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others,” he said.

KK Cheng, a public health expert at the University of Birmingham in the UK, put it bluntly:

“It’s not to protect yourself. It’s to protect people against the droplets coming out of your respiratory tract… I don’t want to frighten you, but when people speak and breathe and sing —you don’t have to sneeze or cough — these droplets are coming out,” he said.


Besides slowing the spread of COVID-19, a few researchers think masks can help prevent people from getting it as well.

“It doesn’t make sense to imagine that … surgical masks are really important for health care workers but then not useful at all for the general public, said Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong. “I think the average person, if they were taught how to wear a mask properly … would have some protection against infection in the community.”

Cheng agreed: “Just imagine you’re traveling in the New York [City] subway on a busy morning. If everyone wears a mask, I’m sure that it would reduce the transmission.”

The guidance is in stark contrast to the stern words that came from the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams only a few weeks ago.

“Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and out the community at risk,” Adams tweeted on Feb. 29.

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