Are face masks going to become like condoms — ubiquitous, sometimes fashionable, promoted with public service announcements? They should be, one virus researcher says, if early indications are correct in suggesting that Covid-19 is often spread by people who feel healthy and show no symptoms.

David O’Connor, who studies viral disease at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said: “If a substantial amount of transmission occurs before people feel sick, how do you stop that? By the time people feel sick and seek care, all the testing and isolation in the world would be too little, too late.”

Dr. O’Connor, who researches H.I.V. and other viruses, including the new coronavirus, said some recent research had shifted his thinking about the current pandemic.

“H.I.V. is also spread while people feel fine,” he wrote in an email, “and consistent, correct condom use is a barrier to sexual virus transmission that works.”

“Face masks are a barrier method that might also need to be worn consistently and correctly to prevent transmission of this virus,” Dr. O’Connor added.

He said it was time to “normalize face masks, and fast.”

“Kids are going to need to wear them to school when classes resume,” Dr. O’Connor said. “Adults are going to need to wear them to work. If you want to go to a basketball game, when we get to that point, face mask. They need to be as ubiquitous as Kleenex, as quickly as possible.”

And they should probably be fashionable as well, he said, with celebrities promoting them. He suggested LeBron James.

The National Basketball Association may have been thinking in the same direction because it announced Friday that it was joining in the production of N.B.A. -, W.N.B.A.- and team-branded face masks.

Two of the papers that prompted Dr. O’Connor’s thoughts on masks and condoms came out in the past week. One, in Nature Medicine, estimated that viral shedding — when people are spreading active viruses by breathing or coughing or sneezing — began two to three days before the onset of any symptoms.

In another paper, which went online Friday in the journal Science, researchers reported that crab-eating macaques were susceptible to infection by the new coronavirus and that they appeared to be shedding the virus from their bodies almost as soon as they were infected.

The monkeys never developed visible symptoms, but the virus was detectable, and the monkeys’ lungs showed damage consistent with a Covid-19-like disease.

Barry Rockx, of Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, one of the authors of the Science paper, said that the research showed the monkeys would be useful in testing treatments and vaccines. Also, he said, “It looks like the peak of shedding occurs very early on.”

If that is also true in humans, as the Nature Medicine paper found, “that could potentially explain why this virus is spreading so rapidly throughout the population,” Dr. Rockx said.

Social distancing for everyone helps with that problem, as would masks, which could benefit from the kind of innovation and promotion applied to condoms, Dr. O’Connor wrote in the email.

He said: “And just like there needed to be sex-positive, non-stigmatizing marketing to increase condom uptake to fight HIV, similar efforts will need to be taken to galvanize people to make mask wearing cool and essential. (Designer face masks? More comfortable face masks?)”

That’s happening too. One thing he didn’t mention, which could be the ultimate best seller, and which did not appear to be for sale in several internet searches — the Fauci face mask.

  • Updated April 11, 2020

    • When will this end?

      This is a difficult question, because a lot depends on how well the virus is contained. A better question might be: “How will we know when to reopen the country?” In an American Enterprise Institute report, Scott Gottlieb, Caitlin Rivers, Mark B. McClellan, Lauren Silvis and Crystal Watson staked out four goal posts for recovery: Hospitals in the state must be able to safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care; the state needs to be able to at least test everyone who has symptoms; the state is able to conduct monitoring of confirmed cases and contacts; and there must be a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • How does coronavirus spread?

      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.

    • Is there a vaccine yet?

      No. Clinical trials are underway in the United States, China and Europe. But American officials and pharmaceutical executives have said that a vaccine remains at least 12 to 18 months away.

    • What makes this outbreak so different?

      Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.

    • What if somebody in my family gets sick?

      If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.

    • Should I stock up on groceries?

      Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

    • Should I pull my money from the markets?

      That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.


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