Healthcare specialists debate: Should everyone wear a face mask?

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It’s a raging debate with health care specialists in Memphis and around the world: should everyone wear a face mask during the coronavirus pandemic? WREG asked local healthcare experts to weigh in.

Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist with Baptist Hospital in Memphis, says no.

“Up to now, there have been no formal recommendations that people in the general public should wear masks,” Threlkeld said. “For the simple reason there are no data that people who wear masks who are healthy are protected from anything.”

Dr. Jeff Warren, a family physician and city councilman who is a member of the COVID-19 task force, is doubling down. He’s saying there should be a more broad community-wide use of masks and not just those working in healthcare.

“All my friends and patients I’m telling them to wear a mask when you go out and that’s what you should be doing,” Warren said. “The experts are saying we don’t have any data saying it works. But in my mind, if you look at China and South Korea, the places that got it controlled, every picture you saw coming from there showed everyone with a mask.”

This week, the World Health Organization stood by its recommendation to only wear a mask if you are sick or caring for some who is sick.

Threkeld says right now if we are all wearing a mask, it could impact those who really need them on the front-lines, battling COVID-19.

“If our emergency rooms, emergency department worker and intensive care workers don’t have masks and can’t take care of people, that’s a factor that goes beyond COVID-19,” Threkeld said.

But Warren says more people wearing masks is better protection for us all.

“It’s the same as if you’re wear an N-95 respirator mask. That’s the same protection you have for both of us wearing a mask or facial covering,” Warren said.

Threkeld says that can create a false sense of security.

“Some studies show you may be more likely—some preliminary studies show—to touch your face, and there are no trials saying wearing a mask will help protect us,” Threkeld says.

As the debate continues, both doctors can agree that one thing everyone in Memphis should be doing is practicing social distancing.

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