Coronavirus: Cover your nose when you wear a mask, doctors say

New evidence is increasingly showing that it is far easier for the virus to affect internal systems when passing through the nose.

A participant wears his face mask under his nose as he attends US President Donald Trump’s signing ceremony for HR 1957, the Great American Outdoors Act, at the White House in Washington, US, August 4, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)
A participant wears his face mask under his nose as he attends US President Donald Trump’s signing ceremony for HR 1957, the Great American Outdoors Act, at the White House in Washington, US, August 4, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)
Though the coronavirus pandemic has been ongoing nearly a year and many aspects such as social distancing and wearing face masks have become the new norm, there is one disturbing trend that has infuriated many healthcare professionals across the globe: Wearing masks with the nose uncovered.
Despite COVID-19 having already infected over 32 million people worldwide and with a death toll approaching 1 million, many people continue to walk around with their noses uncovered, putting them at risk of infection. This is also despite widespread attempts by healthcare professionals and agencies to stress the importance of properly wearing masks, with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even mentioning in its guide on wearing a mask properly to make sure the mouth and nose are both covered.
“My first thought [when I see people wearing masks with their noses uncovered] is, ‘Oh come on, be smarter than that,’” Dr. Richard B. Kennedy, a Minnesota-based professor of medicine at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, told The Star, explaining that sacrificing nose coverage amounts to sacrificing around 80% of the mask's protection.
While there is clear evidence that the primary means of contracting the novel coronavirus is inhaling aerosol droplets, this does not mean simply covering just the mouth is effective. According to Kennedy, new evidence is increasingly showing that it is far easier for the virus to affect internal systems when passing through the nose, The Star reported. This is because certain cells found in abundance in the nasal passage have receptors that the virus can attach to. These cells are also present in the lungs, but in smaller numbers.
“There’s more cells in the upper airway in the nasal passages that have high levels of receptor expression,” Kennedy told The Star. “So the virus is more likely to find the cell to infect, and it’s easier for the virus to infect cells sort of in the upper airway in the nasal passages than it is down in the lungs.”
The doctor also said that keeping the nose uncovered could also help spread the virus further.
“My guess is based on the studies that if there’s a higher concentration in the nose, that more of it’s going to come out through the nose, so a sneeze is probably got more virus than someone talking or singing or coughing,” he explained to The Star.
This is supported by prior research, such as studies published in the academic journal Cell in May and July, which found that compared to cells found in the throat and lungs, cells found in the human nose have a significantly higher chance of not only becoming infected with the virus, but also of having the virus replicate within them and spread to the outside world.
Kennedy isn't alone in his thoughts. Robert Kozak, a clinical microbiologist at the Tornoto-based Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, agrees that the nose, like all areas that could be potential means of infection, should be covered and secured, and compared the virus entering the cells to home invasion.
“If you think of a cell as a house, rather than just having one door, they’ve now got your front door, a back door, a side door, a door in the garage… perhaps some of the lung cells might only have one door instead of a couple,” Kozak told The Star.
The focus on the nose comes as many scientists study means of diagnosing COVID-19, with one of the most commonly observed symptoms being a loss or distortion of the sense of smell.
Idan Zonshine contributed to this report.