Coronavirus: UC San Francisco ER doctor explains when to wear a face mask

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- There's a lot of confusion circulating about face masks.

Should we wear them all the time? What if we don't have a surgical mask? Is a face cloth still as effective?

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All legitimate questions as we continue to learn more about the spread of COVID-19.

San Francisco-native, Sharon Hoffman still remains confused.

"We were originally told that except for N95s, other face masks don't prevent the spread of COVID-19," she said.

Hoffman isn't alone. Hundreds of people have taken to social media asking the same questions.

ABC7 met with Dr. Jeanne Noble, who leads UCSF's emergency department response to COVID-19.

"We really should have our face covered when we're out and about in public," said Noble.

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Here are the basics:

When should you wear a mask outside?

Noble says you SHOULD wear one if you come within 6 feet of another person.

Do you HAVE to wear a mask when you're outside?

The short answer is no. It's not required, but is highly recommended.

Early data suggests wearing some sort of mask will prevent the spread.

What if you feel healthy?

"I don't cough or sneeze," said Hoffman. "Is it just for piece of mind?"

No - You should still wear a mask.

Noble says 25-percent of patients who test positive for COVID-19 are asymptomatic, showing no symptoms.

What if you don't have a surgical or N95 mask? Would cloth or a bandanna work?

Yes. Any face cloth will do.

"It can be cotton, it can be a bandanna that you fold in half," said Noble. "Just be sure you cover your mouth and your nose."

How much more will an N95 mask protect you compared to a bandanna?

Noble says there's not enough data out yet to give a specific percentage.

But, the bottom line is, unless you're on the front lines fighting the virus -- a bandanna or face cloth will work.

"We emit droplets just when we speak and certainly when we cough," said Noble. "We need to keep our germs in and the germs of others out."

Do you have to wear a mask at home?

No. Unless someone in your family has tested positive. Ideally, that person should be isolated in a different room and bathroom.

Will face masks be required?

Noble doesn't think so. Right now it's just highly recommended and will likely save lives.

When in doubt -- wear a mask!

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