Are Masks Effective Against COVID-19?

As a popular meme suggests, 2020 was destined to be a year of greatness. This year was, metaphorically, meant to be caviar at the Ritz Carlton enjoyed in your finest ballgown. (Do people still say “ballgown”?)

Instead, it was a gas station taquito tolerated while wearing a near-disintegrating pair of sweats. And it probably gave you food poisoning.

2020 has, in many ways, been the great equalizer: No matter who you are, it’s thrown you for a loop. COVID-19 (or simply “coronavirus,” as many people refer to it) has unraveled your dreams and plans and even *gulp* your vacations. It’s left many of us feeling out of sorts and utterly out of control.

The painful truth is that there is a lot we don’t have control over. We can’t stop the pandemic; we can’t force anyone not to catch it. Yet there is something we have at least some level of control over: We can help to avoid the spread of germs by wearing a mask.

A woman wearing a mask grabs a box from a mask-wearing man

What is the Coronavirus, Anyway?

Medicine Net gives the following definition of coronavirus: “A type of common virus that infects humans, typically leading to an upper respiratory infection (URI.) Seven different types of human coronavirus have been identified. Most people will be infected with at least one type of coronavirus in their lifetime. The viruses are spread through the air by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, touching an object or surface contaminated with the virus and rarely, by fecal contamination” (emphasis added).

While coronavirus has become a ubiquitous term to define COVID-19, they’re actually not the same thing. COVID-19 is a specific type of coronavirus — and like all types of coronavirus, it can be spread by coughing, sneezing, and being in close personal contact with someone who is infected.

Why is Wearing a Mask So Important During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Because this virus is spread largely by coughing and sneezing, it’s vital to wear a mask when out in public.

According to the CDC, many people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic — and because of this, they can unknowingly spread the virus to others. Masks help to curtail the spread of the virus, though, as they keep the infected person’s sneeze and cough droplets largely inside of their own mask. Similarly, if someone sneezes or coughs on or near you while you are wearing a mask, the mask may prevent their germs from reaching your nose or mouth.

And, of course, the virus is spread by having germs on your hands, phone, etc., and then touching your face — which is why it’s so important to regularly sanitize your phone with PhoneSoap.

Do Masks Actually Protect Us from the Spread of COVID-19?

While there’s a lot of debate currently centered around this question, scientific evidence (via dozens and dozens of studies) points to yes.

In July, Brigham Young University published an analysis of more than 115 studies on the efficacy of masks. And their #1 takeaway? That there is a “nearly universal consensus that masks could be one of the most powerful and cost-effective tools to stop COVID-19 and accelerate the economic recovery.”

About their own experience in the state of Utah, BYU writes: “There is some anecdotal evidence that masking is working in Utah. Since the mask mandate was passed for Salt Lake and Summit Counties on June 27th, the number of new cases in those areas has decreased, while the number of new cases in the rest of the state has increased. Likewise, the July 10th request by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for all members to wear masks in public coincides with a flattening and then decrease of COVID-19 cases statewide.”

To illustrate such evidence, let’s look at a few studies:

A study published in April on the effectiveness of face masks found that the spread of influenza or the common cold was significantly reduced via the spread of speech, cough, or sneeze droplets when the infected party was wearing a mask.

Another experiment, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in May of this year, using a high-speed video showed that hundreds of droplets ranging in size are generated when someone says a simple phrase; however, nearly all of those droplets are blocked when the mouth is covered with a damp washcloth.

What does the CDC say about wearing masks?

What Does the CDC Say About Wearing Masks?

The CDC’s (Center for Disease Control) position on masks is clear: when out in public, people should wear them.

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”

On the CDC’s website is an article entitled “Considerations for Wearing Masks,” where they list the following bullet points:

  • CDC recommends that people wear masks in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • Masks may help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.
  • Masks are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings.
  • Masks should NOT be worn by children under the age of 2 or anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
  • Masks with exhalation valves or vents should NOT be worn to help prevent the person wearing the mask from spreading COVID-19 to others (source control).

What Type of Masks Are Best?

A girl wears a mask while she uses her phone

While there are a few different types of masks — including N95 respirators and surgical masks, both of which are effective — the CDC has advised the general public to wear cloth masks.

In fact, on May 26, the National Library of Medicine published a study entitled “Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in Respiratory Cloth Masks” in which they found that “combinations of various commonly available fabrics used in cloth masks can potentially provide significant protection against the transmission of aerosol particles.”

Are Masks Effective at Spreading COVID-19?

We cannot stress this enough: YES! Masks are an incredibly powerful and cost-effective way to stop the spread of germs, even among people who are pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic.

So next time you’re out in public and you feel inconvenienced or a little annoyed by your mask, you can find peace in knowing that you’re doing your part to put an end to this pandemic.

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