A 2017 workplace safety infographic compiled by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has run amok on social media and in news reports, spawning claims that authorities are telling people to shave off beards and moustaches to avoid the novel coronavirus.
Contrary to emerging claims, the CDC infographic, which covers an astonishing amount of facial hair options (amongst them some controversial ones), was not produced in relation to the current outbreak of COVID-19.
The poster is one of many respiratory protection infographics listed by a sub-branch of the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; specifically, one dedicated to personal protective equipment typically used in professional settings.
Whoever dug the poster up must have missed the actual current coronavirus advice regarding respiratory protection, in which the "CDC does not recommend the routine use of respirators outside of workplace settings (in the community)".
Since respiratory viruses typically spread among close contacts, the current advice is mostly standard stuff, and basically the same thing we are told every flu season: avoid sick people, stay at home if you are sick, avoid touching your eyes or nose, and cover your coughs and sneezes, ideally with a tissue.
A respirator is actually required to be fit-tested to be deemed fully effective - in which case facial hair can pose various problems, hence the infographic.
But in no shape or form is the CDC saying that hirsute individuals must part with their 'chin curtains' or 'ducktails' if they're in the path of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Unfortunately, this latest nonsense joins a long list of misinformation that public health authorities are already battling on a daily basis. Right now, it's everyone's duty not to share false information and faulty advice that could make matters worse.
While we're on the subject, according to this explanation by the CDC, surgical masks are hardly going to help, either: their purpose is to protect your face from large droplets, and to protect other people from your own sneezes.
It's perfectly okay to be worried in the face of a potential global pandemic, and to seek out advice on how to protect yourself - but we also need to stay level-headed. Here's what you can do if you are feeling anxious about COVID-19.