COVID-19: Should Seniors Wear Facemasks?

No, seniors do not need facemasks to keep safe from the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). While a mask might prevent you from infecting others, there is little evidence to suggest it will keep you from contracting it in the first place.

Surgeon General Warning

Masks are worse than unhelpful. Rushing out to buy them could actually hurt vulnerable groups and promote the spread of COVID-19.

The Surgeon General, Jerome M. Adams, took to Twitter on Saturday to issue a warning. “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!” Adams continued, “They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if health care providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

Prices for disposable masks have skyrocketed and eCommerce platforms like Amazon are choked with counterfeits. At the same time, misleading guidelines and so-called cures have forced social networking sites to rewrite their policies and police new posts around the clock.

Manufacturers are also struggling to keep up. America’s largest, Prestige Ameritech, handles requests for between 1 and 100 million masks every day. With just 100 employees, the company faces a potentially insurmountable challenge.


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What to Do Instead of Wearing a Facemask

Adams’ words should sound familiar to anyone who has followed the COVID-19 outbreak. He echoes the advice of groups like the World Health Organization (WHO) and Center for Disease Control (CDC).

You are more likely to contract COVID-19 from an infected surface than from droplets in the air. As such, washing your hands properly and frequently remains the best way to avoid contracting the virus. Experts also encourage practicing safe social distancing and good respiratory hygiene.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar emphasized that these precautions are, typically, far more effective than wearing a mask. A mask, Azar remarked, “could actually sometimes be more harmful . . . because if it’s not fitted right you’re going to fumble with it.” Doing so would mean touching your face which, in Azar’s words, “is the No. 1 way you’re going to get the disease.”

Azar also reminds Americans that reducing your risk of exposure to COVID-19 does not mean taking any new precautions. The hygiene best practices offered by WHO and CDC are largely consistent with those they would suggest for any cold and flu season.

So, who needs a mask? Per the CDC’s website, only “people who show symptoms of COVID19,” “health workers,” and anyone who is “taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a healthcare facility)” should wear masks at this time.

As with any developing situation, it’s important that seniors identify credible sources and keep themselves informed. Seniors can find a summary of WHO’s health and safety guidelines here.