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Do beards and facial hair increase COVID-19 risk? Here’s what we know.

Is your corona-beard or ‘stache putting you at risk for COVID-19? Here’s what we know:

There is not a lot of research on the topic. The few existing studies suggest that facial hair causes risk to others—mainly anesthesiologists’ and surgeons’ risk of bacterial transmission to patients. One study last year found that men’s beards have significantly higher bacterial loads than dog fur, and more human-pathogenic strains, concluding that poor beard hygiene is a risk for patients. In short: If you’re sick, your germs are likely to hang out in your facial hair, posing more risk to others.

What the experts say. “There’s no evidence that having a beard per se makes you more or less vulnerable to the coronavirus,” Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease doctor with Johns Hopkins University, told NPR. But “you need to be really meticulous about the hygiene of your beard.” People with facial hair do touch their faces more, which in turn increases risk of infection.

The obvious problem. Facial hair can block a full seal around the nose and mouth on a sealing protective mask, such as an N95, defeating the purpose of the mask. One recent study found that no healthcare workers with beards achieved a proper fit. Thus, healthcare workers are shaving. (Healthcare facilities typically allow religious exemptions, providing special PAPR masks for those with beards, which have a spacesuit look.) Facial hair can also cause what one study calls “facemask wiggling.”

What facial hair works in masks? This hilarious CDC infographic (yep, those exist) narrows down the facial hair styles that won’t impede a mask’s seal. The infographic is four years old and intended for workers who wear sealed masks, not laypeople. Styles that work include the soul patch, side whiskers, and some goatees. Thumbs down on the chin curtain and Dali looks.


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