The coronavirus has been all over the news. You’ve probably seen footage of people in China walking around with face masks on. But do those masks really do anything to protect you?

Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal is an expert on this stuff. She lived in China and covered the SARS outbreak in 2002. And she says most of the time, the answer is . . . probably not. If you’re heading to a crowded space in the middle of an outbreak, it might be a good idea. But it’s overboard to put one on every time you go out. Here’s why:

1. Things like the coronavirus and the flu don’t spread that easily outdoors. So unless you’re in a confined space like a bus or plane, it’s not really necessary.
2. Even if your mask did block it, the virus would just stick to the mask. So if you weren’t careful, it would transfer to your hands when you took if off.
3. Once a mask does get contaminated, it has to be thrown out. And there’s no way to tell if it’s contaminated or not. So people who wear them should be wearing a new mask every day. Otherwise it’s kind of pointless.
She says there is one thing you can do to protect yourself though: wash your HANDS more. Even if it’s airborne, you’re more likely to get a virus by touching something contaminated, like a doorknob. So washing up frequently is important.