THERE are two face masks in the market, if they’re not yet sold out in your locality, thanks to the soaring demand in the wake of the threat of coronavirus. Those are the surgical mask and N95 respirator.
‘Redundance’ in phrase
I use the term “face mask” although some grammar police say the phrase is redundant since a “mask” covers all or part of the face. News media outlets and standard dictionaries, hewing to popular usage, continue to use “face” with “mask.” Maybe also because there’s “head mask” which covers not just the face but the rest of the head, and there’s “deity mask” which depicts a god or goddess.
Back to the coronavirus-induced wearing of face masks. One sees masked people in increasing number at public places in Cebu and in news reports about the disease, which broke out in Wuhan, China, its epicenter, and now threaten many other countries.
No and yes
Selecting from the glut of information that has surfaced, one can pick these out for importance and interest:
 Health experts, including the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, do not recommend mask-wearing, saying the risk of “person-to-person sustained transmission” in the US is low. Our Department of Health (DOH) has urged the public “to wear surgical masks and avoid crowded places.”
The US had eight confirmed cases as of Sunday, Feb. 2. On the same day, the Philippines announced the first death of the virus outside China, a Wuhan resident who arrived here last January with a woman who remains under observation. CNN listed PH with “2 confirmed cases, one death.”
‘Not in virus cases’
 Of the two kinds of face mask, the surgical mask is cheaper but it is thinner and less effective. The N95 respirator is difficult to put on and requires fitting and training.
Could masks be of some use? An American infectious-disease specialist said: “Yes, but the effect is likely to be modest. They help protect against pathogens and pollution. They don’t help much in the context of a virus.”
 Face masks then do not give full protection. Yet they give some comfort that they could help. That must be the reason DOH is advising people to wear them and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) is even requiring drivers of public utility vehicles to wear them under threat of a P5,000 fine.
Robbers, killers, lovers
The downside not mentioned officially is that robbers and killers could use them openly and arouse less suspicion before they strike.
The face mask’s utility is wide: it protects the face or conceals identity, which is useful in a Halloween prank--or in a robbery or execution.
It may also be used by lovers who cannot keep away from each other. Would the face masks work? Faith or distrust in face mask as protector against virus could spell the difference on how the season of love would be to many of the world’s lovers.