The plea from health experts for the public to wear face masks has intensified in recent weeks, as coronavirus cases continue to climb in many areas of the U.S. And a lot of it has to do with what researchers are learning about the effectiveness of face coverings.
A growing number of studies point to the mask as a powerful tool that can help control the spread of the coronavirus, which so far has infected nearly 3 million Americans. Here are five reasons to wear a mask, based on the latest research.
1. Masks protect other people
The primary way the coronavirus spreads is from person to person by respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. Face masks, however, can block these droplets. They act as a barrier to keep virus-containing particles from escaping an infected individual and landing on another person, explains Ron Waldman, M.D., professor of global health at the George Washington University (GWU) Milken Institute School of Public Health.
A new simulation from researchers at Florida Atlantic University illustrates just how effective face coverings can be in reducing the number of droplets that are dispersed into the air and the distance they travel. Without a mask, droplets traveled more than 8 feet. A bandanna cut the distance to 3 feet, 7 inches, and a folded cotton handkerchief reduced that distance even more, to 1 foot, 3 inches, the researchers note.
"There's no question; it's indisputable that wearing even a cloth face covering cuts down substantially on the amount of virus that's shared by an individual,” Waldman says.
2. You may not realize you are contagious
It used to be that masks were recommended only for people who knew they had COVID-19, as a way to protect others around them. When it became apparent, however, that the virus can be transmitted by people before they start showing symptoms (pre-symptomatic) and by people who never develop symptoms (asymptomatic), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) broadened its guidelines, urging everyone to wear a cloth face covering in public.