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Do face masks really stop the coronavirus? Palm Beach County health experts weigh in

Surgical masks among most effective, doctor says
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Posted at 4:02 PM, Jun 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-23 17:54:44-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Palm Beach County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of requiring face masks to be worn in public to help prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

But how effective are masks in curtailing the spread of the virus?

RELATED: Martin County orders restaurant, retail, grocery store workers to wear face coverings

Doctors say it is important to find the right mask for filtering COVID-19 virus particles.

"I think any facial covering is better than none," said Dr. Charles Murphy, who is in charge of patient safety at Jupiter Medical Center.

WPTV asked him and other medical experts about wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and which ones work the best.

When it comes to homemade masks, the differences can be dramatic.

“The effectiveness can have a wide variation, anywhere from 5 percent to 90 percent,” said Murphy. "It seems to be important what material is included. Cotton is probably the most used material. The thread count of cotton can be important, with the higher thread counts being more effective."

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus

He said the masks can stop the droplets and aerosols that can be airborne even during a normal conversation.

Those droplets, just from a conversation between two people, can number in the millions, experts say.

"You have droplets when you’re speaking, when you’re sneezing, when you’re coughing, that you can leave up in the air, you can leave on surfaces, so it’s not a good idea to go out without wearing a mask,” said Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center Dr. Shady Salib.

According to Salib, there is no medically-acceptable reason for anyone older than 2 years old not to wear a mask.

"If you can't find a surgical mask, it's OK to wear a homemade mask. They're not as effective. They don't protect as much. But at this point, because the numbers are so high in our area in Florida, anything that covers our nose and mouth would be acceptable," said Salib.

Salib said the multilayered, blue-colored surgical masks are among the most effective available to the general public.

“If you’re going to a store any place that is poorly ventilated, not open air ... you are at risk of having the virus particles in the droplets, in the air, hanging for few hours," Salib said

On Tuesday, coronavirus cases reached 103,503 in Florida, which includes 11,180 cases in Palm Beach County. The state death toll is now at 3,328.