With heightened concern over coronavirus, do you really need a mask?

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- With the CDC confirming the first human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus in the U.S., health officials are on a heightened alert. They are also learning more about how it may spread even if a person is not showing symptoms. Should you be wearing a mask?

In Hong Kong, people are forming long lines outside pharmacies for the chance to buy masks to protect against the novel coronavirus.

The same here at home. In Simi Valley, fear over this potential health threat is causing a run on face masks at nearly every store.

The chief medical officer at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, Dr. Armand Dorian, says, "Here in the United States, you do not need a mask for coronavirus."

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ABC's Trevor Ault reports on the coronavirus outbreak.

Dorian said at hospitals, disposable face masks are given to sick patients so they don't infect others. For infection control, that's the most effective use. But for healthy people, these masks won't do much to protect you from tiny droplets traveling in the air.

"The problem is they do not create a complete seal around your mouth," he said.

N95 masks are designed so they can create a vacuum around the nose and mouth.

The seal on these masks have to be so tight that you can't even smell the scent of someone standing next to you. Once you move around, you break the seal, and then you're not protected.

"You start feeling very hot inside and bothered and then what happens is you immediately break the seal, which essentially makes it useless," Dorian said.

And those popular cloth masks are even worse.

"The water droplets will actually sit inside that mask and almost guarantee that you will inhale that virus," he said.

The best defense is good hand washing and staying away from sick people. But travelers need to heed the warnings. Call ahead so doctors can prepare.

"If you do have symptoms of fever and respiratory illness, make sure you put a mask on and go to your local emergency room," Dorian said, "They have the proper processes in place to take care of this."

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Doctors are reminding the public that influenza is far more dangerous and widespread than coronavirus, with more than 10,000 flu-related deaths per year in the United States.

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