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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Take right steps to stop spread of coronavirus

Allen County residents concerned about the continuing worldwide spread of the coronavirus outbreak may want to think twice before buying a facemask.

While the facemask industry is booming due to concerns about the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it “does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19,” which is coronavirus.

COVID-19 is a new virus in the coronavirus family that’s a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused past outbreaks. It can cause fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia. As with the flu, health officials believe it spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. There is no treatment or vaccine.

The outbreak began in China and has infected tens of thousands of people in more than three dozen countries.

As of Wednesday night, there were 61 cases in the U.S., according to the CDC. All but one are people who had traveled from abroad or had been in close contact with someone else who had.

“Is this an immediate concern for people in Allen County? No, unless you happen to be traveling to any of those countries where there is now coronavirus,” Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan stated recently.

The Allen County Department of Health issued a statement from McMahan recently that if someone develops a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, and if they have traveled from China within the past 14 days or had contact with someone that is a confirmed case of COVID-19, they should call a healthcare professional.

Those who have not been to China within the past 14 days and have not been around a confirmed case of COVID-19 have no reason to be tested for the virus at this time.

But some people are rushing to buy facemasks, thinking that will protect them from infection.

There are different types of masks. Surgical masks, for example, may be worn by healthcare providers to protect the patient and the environment from any organisms that may come from the healthcare worker’s nose or mouth. Respirators or N95 masks are designed to prevent a healthcare worker’s exposure to potentially infectious airborne particles. They come in various sizes and must be fit to a wearer’s face and provide a tight seal.

The AP story reported a study following the SARS virus outbreak in the early 2000s suggested transmission of the viral respiratory infection could be reduced with the use of facemasks. But the CDC says people afraid of being infected by coronavirus don’t need to wear facemasks to keep from contracting the disease.

“Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others,” the CDC’s website says. “The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a healthcare facility).”

Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, echoes McMahan and other experts who say washing your hands frequently is the best way to prevent the spread of infectious illnesses like coronavirus or the flu. The CDC advises washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, avoid contact with sick people, cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze, and disinfect objects and surfaces frequently, the CDC says.