Traditional surgical masks do not protect from the coronavirus

The CDC has confirmed five coronavirus cases in the United States, and no one has died. However, in China, more than 100 people have died and over 4,000 people are ill.

At O’Hare International Airport, many people are wearing the traditional surgical mask hoping to fend off the virus. Here’s the problem: that mask can ward off colds and sometimes the flu, but it can’t combat the vicious coronavirus.

Oddly enough, the surgical masks are selling out at major retail stores. The CDC doesn’t recommend them, but in Wuhan, the Chinese government has made it mandatory that anyone in public places must wear a mask.

Wuhan is the epicenter of the virus, and how it originated is still unknown.

“The regular surgical masks is what people are using, they are not recommended to prevent the coronavirus,” said Doctor and Professor Michael Ison, who works at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine in the Infectious Diseases Department.

“What is generally recommended is higher level protection, such as a N95 mask. Wearing mask may slightly decrease the risk of coronavirus,” he said.

The N95 mask isn’t a fix all, but it does filter out 95-percent of airborne particles, according to the CDC.

The CDC also recommends the N95 mask be used by healthcare providers treating coronavirus patients because it can filter out particles of saliva and mucus from when infected patients cough and sneeze.

United Airlines did release a statement on future flights: "Due to a significant decline in demand for travel to China, we are suspending some flights between our hub cities and Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai beginning Feb. 1 through Feb. 8. We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops and will adjust our schedule as needed."

That move impacts about 10 flights in and out of O’Hare right now.