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The Science Behind Face Masks: How Do They Protect You From COVID-19?

November 10, 2020

There has been a lot of confusion over mask-wearing, do masks really prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Well in short the answer is: Yes. 

The coronavirus spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Face masks help prevent the spread of the virus by keeping droplets out of the air and off of surfaces.

The science that supports wearing a face mask

The science proving the efficacy of face masks is evolving, and there is increasing evidence suggesting that masks are an effective means to slow the COVID-19 pandemic spread. 

Several studies were recently published by reputable sources, reaffirming the efficacy of masks.

Two very compelling studies were published, one from The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), revealing that adherence to universal masking policy decreased COVID-19 transmission inside a Boston Hospital System. 


The other study by CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), showed that wearing a face mask prevented the spread of infection from two hairstylists- infected with COVID-19 to their 139 clients and secondary contacts. None of the clients, staff, and secondary contacts became ill nor showed signs of infection.

According to CDC, the finding adds to a growing body of evidence that face masks help prevent the person wearing the mask from spreading COVID-19 to others. The primary protection individuals gain from masking occurs when others are also wearing face masks. 

Wearing a face mask prevents inhaling harmful pathogen and particulates. The level of protection from face masks varies based on the type of mask used and the level of filtration offered.

Surgical masks should be worn by healthcare workers, people with COVID-19 symptoms or anyone taking care of someone suspected or confirmed with COVID-19. They are more widely available for general use. Typically, these disposable, single-use masks are rectangular with pleats to expand to cover your nose, mouth, and jawline and are made of breathable synthetic fabric.

Most importantly, face masks act as source control in the sense that they prevent others from being exposed to infectious microbes that may be expelled during respiration.


Does everybody need to wear a mask?

There is strength in numbers.

In simulations of epidemics with a low rate of transmission, widespread mask-wearing is very effective at reducing hospitalizations and mortality. If half the population wore masks that block half of the particles, transmission rates could also be roughly halved 

Epidemics could be brought under control if everyone wore a mask all the time when in public.

In response to many new scientific studies, the World Health Organization recently released the following guidance: “WHO advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there are widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments."

How to wear a mask correctly

  • Clean your hands before touching the mask
  • Inspect the mask for damage or if dirty
  • Adjust the mask to your face without leaving gaps on the sides
  • Cover your mouth, nose and chin with the mask
  • Avoid touching the mask once it is on
  • Clean your hands before removing the mask
  • Remove the mask by the straps behind the ears or head
  • Pull the mask away from your face
  • Clean your hands after removing the mask
  • Properly dispose of your mask

Whether or not you are feeling sick or have COVID-19 symptoms, there is evidence that if you have the virus, you may be able to transmit it to others when you speak, cough, or sneeze. Wearing a mask protects the people around you. If everyone combines wearing a mask while in public with social distancing, the risk of spreading the coronavirus can be greatly reduced.

*This article is not meant to be taken as medical advice. Please follow the advice of your local health authorities when making decisions about your own health and the people around you.
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