A medical supply store worker organizes masks that customers are buying as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Feb. 26, 2020.
A medical supply store worker organizes masks that customers are buying as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Feb. 26, 2020.

WASHINGTON - The U.S. surgeon general has a message for Americans inclined to wear a mask to ward off the deadly coronavirus - don't.

"Their risk as American citizens remains low," Surgeon General Jerome Adams told the "Fox & Friends" show on Monday. "There are things that people can do to stay safe. There are things they shouldn't be doing. And of the things they shouldn't be doing, the general public, is going out and buying masks."

He said, "It actually does not help. It's not been proven to be effective in preventing spread of coronavirus amongst the general public. And actually people who tend to buy masks don't know how to wear them properly."

Adams said that "as a health care provider, I have to get fit tested. Folks who don't know how to wear them properly tend to touch their faces a lot and actually can increase the spread of coronavirus."

The surgeon general, the U.S. government's top medical official, said, "Americans get scared when they feel like they've lost control."

"I want Americans to understand there are things you can do to stay safe," he said. "You can clean your hands frequently, for 15 to 20 seconds. You can cover your cough (with an arm) when you're sneezing and (taking) social precautions and staying home when you're sick, or staying away from people who are sick, are important ways to keep from being exposed to coronavirus."

Adams noted that 18,000 people die annually in the U.S. from seasonal influenza, compared to the two deaths so far in the United States blamed on coronavirus.

"I remain convinced that more people are going to die by far from the flu than coronavirus," he said, "not only in our country but across the planet."

And if they do contract coronavirus, he said, "It's important for folks to know that most people are going to have a mild illness, they're going to stay home for a few days and they're going to get better."

"It's the time for caution, not panic," he concluded.

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