Why a mask?
July 24, 2020
Studies have shown that masks limit the spread of the coronavirus by blocking respiratory droplets that can travel through the air when someone coughs, sneezes or even just speaks. There’s also strong evidence to suggest that masks help protect others from catching the virus from the person wearing the mask.
When you talk, “things are coming out of your mouth. They’re coming out fast,” explained Linsey Marr, a researcher at Virginia Tech who studies the airborne transmission of viruses. “They’re going to slam into the cloth mask. I think even a low-quality mask can block a lot of those droplets.”
Requiring all people to wear masks — not just those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms — can be especially important in slowing the spread of the virus, because research has demonstrated that asymptomatic people can spread it unknowingly.
Scientists recently compiled data from across the world, comparing the spread of COVID-19 in countries that mandate masks to the spread of the disease in those that don’t. They estimate that if 95 percent of people wear cotton masks when interacting with others, coronavirus spread would decrease by 30 percent.
In the United States, those researchers estimate that level of mask-wearing could save 40,000 lives by Nov. 1.
Other models have also forecast that widespread mask-wearing could prevent tens of thousands of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S.
Public health officials have continually stressed that the main purpose for wearing a mask is to lower the chances that the wearer will spread the coronavirus to others.
That’s why it’s important to wear a mask even if you’re not feeling sick, because you can shed the virus from your nose and mouth even when you feel fine.
Recent research suggests that people who have COVID-19 are most infectious soon after they are infected with the coronavirus — before they even start to feel sick.
But a growing body of evidence suggests that masks also protect the wearer from the virus.
Research shows that if you’re exposed to the virus, wearing a mask can drastically reduce the amount of the virus that gets into your body. And the less virus that gets into your system, the less likely you are to get sick.
Furthermore, if you do get sick, a more limited exposure often results in what’s called an asymptomatic infection — in which you don’t have any symptoms — or a very mild infection.
At the beginning of the pandemic, it wasn’t yet clear how effective masks would be in preventing community spread. That prompted health officials to discourage buying up masks, so that the critical personal protective equipment could be reserved for health care workers.
That early messaging has led to a lot of confusion about the benefits of wearing masks.
But now that we know more about the ease with which the virus is transmitted, it’s clear that even a homemade cloth mask is helpful, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said recently.