Public health official urges residents not to substitute face masks for social distancing

FILE - Protective N-95 face masks lie on a table at an office in Washington, DC. ( Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images )

The Director of the California Department of Public Health urged residents not to supplement facial coverings with social distancing in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Dr. Sonia Angell said face masks can be an “additive,” but should not be used as a substitute for hand-washing and social distancing.

"They are not a substitute for physical distancing. They are not a substitute for a stay at home order," she said. 

Dr. Angell also called on residents not to wear N95 masks and that those should be saved for first responders and healthcare workers working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those statements were echoed by health officials in Los Angeles County who asked the public to refrain from purchasing N95 respirator masks, so that medical professionals can have access to them.

RELATED: 'They're needed for healthcare workers': Public health pleads for residents to stop buying N95 masks

Photo by Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images)

Dr. Angell added that from an evidence perspective “our best defense against the virus are the types of interventions that we’re currently putting in place and must continue to enforce. This includes washing hands, physical distance, and staying home as often and for as much time as possible. This prevents exposure to other individuals who could pass exposure to you.”

RELATED: Los Angeles County healthcare worker dies from COVID-19, county cases spike to 3,011

In addition, she mentioned we must protect those working in the care delivery system.

Dr. Angell said there is some evidence that using face coverings may reduce asymptomatic infections and that wearing masks can signal to others to keep their physical distance. She also said face masks may decrease the amount of infection particles that go into the air when you sneeze or cough.

RELATED: CoronavirusNOW.com, FOX launches national hub for COVID-19 news and updates. 

However, she is concerned that when people wear masks, they can feel immune and decrease their physical distancing measures and abandon proper handwashing techniques.

“If you use them, make sure you maintain physical distance,” Dr. Angell said.

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