Some stores in Iowa are already sold out of face masks, but a state health official says there’s no need for Iowans to be stockpiling masks over fears about coronavirus.
Polly Carver-Kimm, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Public Health, says while there are a few dozen confirmed cases in the U.S., the risk of catching the potentially-deadly virus in Iowa remains very low.
“We can understand that people have seen photos and video of people wearing face masks in other countries, but the CDC specifically does not recommend the use of face masks as a prevention method for COVID-19,” Carver-Kimm says. “We don’t feel that anyone in Iowa needs to run out and buy face masks now anyway.”
Unless you’re a health care worker, she says you don’t need to be wearing a face mask.
“That’s a different situation because they’re in very close proximity to an individual who may be coughing or sneezing directly on them,” Carver-Kimm says. “Health care providers may, and we’d probably recommend they do use face masks just like they do when they have an influenza patient come in.”
The health department does recommend Iowans make a plan, just as they would for severe weather, and assemble an emergency kit.
“That involves things like making sure you have a supply of your medications on hand, making sure you have thoughts in line for, ‘What would I do if I couldn’t get to the grocery store?’ or ‘What will I do if the school is closed because of illness,'” she says. “We’re not saying that’s going to happen but it’s always best to prepare and that’s what we’re advising people to do right now.”
That emergency kit need not include face masks, she says. So, millions of people in Asian countries who wear face masks are wrong?
“There’s actually a very long cultural history behind that which has to do with societal norms and privacy,” Carver-Kimm says. “It’s not just about disease prevention and there’s a lot of history on that.”
The CDC recommends health care workers who interact with coronavirus patients wear masks designated as “N-95,” which fit close to the face and include a respirator. That N-95 means they’re designed to filter out 95% of particles.