While a number of media outlets have published pro-mask stories — some on how to make your own, even — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has maintained they’re only necessary for people who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. So which is it?

It depends on who you ask, as well as the situation. Worn properly, an N95 respirator mask can successfully filter out airborne coronavirus particles — making them a must-have for people caring for COVID-19 victims, health experts say. However, the CDC advises against wearing any type of mask all the time because wearers tend to fiddle with them a lot. Doing so can transfer the virus to a wearer’s hands, per the CDC.

Surgical masks aren’t as useless as some reports indicate. Coronavirus victims should wear them to prevent the virus from being expelled when the wearer coughs or sneezes, experts say. They could protect healthy people from catching the virus through a splash of body fluids, but they’re not going to stop airborne particles, which are small enough to get through the mask’s material, according to the World Health Organization.

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