Are Face Masks a Viable Method of Protection Against COVID-19?

How Masks Work

Face masks are meant to protect the wearer from contact with droplets and sprays containing germs and viruses. Face masks also protect those around the mask wearer because they act as a barrier, trapping respiratory droplets that are released when breathing, talking, coughing or sneezing.

How to Get the Most Out of Mask Wearing

The most dense and close-fitting masks are the most effective face masks, as they can prevent more leakage throughout their coverage and at their edges. Face masks with a bendable wire above the nose, which makes them even more form-fitting, are also recommended.

To get the most out of your face mask wearing experience, keep your face mask freshly washed; wash your hands before placing your mask on your face; and avoid touching your mask once it is securely in place. Remove your face mask from the ear loops without touching the front of it. Once your face mask has been removed, thoroughly wash your mask as well as your hands.

Face masks should not be worn as a substitute for social distancing; and should still be worn by those who are vaccinated as another layer of protection and because vaccinated people can still transmit the virus. If you show no symptoms of COVID-19 or the COVID-19 delta variant, it could simply be that you are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. In addition, people with weakened immune systems should be hyper-vigilant about mask wearing.

Masks will not entirely eliminate the risk of transmitting COVID. In fact, COVID can still be transmitted through membranes in the eyes, so wearing glasses, sunglasses or a face shield in addition to a face mask is even more beneficial in warding off the virus and its variants.

Mask Wearing Across the Globe

England and Scotland have mandated the use of face masks on public transit, resulting in a lower death rate in those countries. Italy, which was once a hotbed for coronavirus cases and now fares much better, required face masks be worn any time people were in public in an enclosed environment, such as restaurants, stores and public transit. Although Russia has mandated face mask wearing on public transit, reports indicate that regardless of that mandate, compliance is mixed and their COVID cases have risen. Brazil has required a face mask wearing policy in most public places since April, but their own president does not wear a mask in public. Brazil has recorded the most coronavirus deaths in the world, second only to the United States.

Face masks have been a staple in Asia for quite some time. People in East Asian countries, including Japan, China and South Korea, have been mask wearers long before the coronavirus pandemic; and mask wearing in Asia reached extremely high levels during the SARS epidemic of 2002 and 2003.

Reportedly, masks are worn in Eastern Asia to protect its citizens from pollution as well as the spread of germs and disease in crowds and in poorly ventilated areas, such as subways. Along with vaccines, the Eastern Asian culture views masks as a powerful weapon in the healthcare arsenal, one which has blended seamlessly into everyday life there. Additionally, face masks in East Asia are a mainstay, not only in everyday life, but also considered an absolute necessity when people are sick – if even simply with the common cold – to keep each other safe, especially during the winter months. In fact, not wearing a face mask in East Asian countries carries a stigma of irresponsible, anti-social behavior that is considered a danger to both oneself and others. 

Western society tends to be more individual in its nature. Although mask wearing may seem odd, uncomfortable and is a bigger adjustment for citizens of the United States, the proven effective results of mask wearing are irrefutable.

Evidence Supports the Fact that Mask Wearing Works

The wearing of face masks has been scientifically proven to help significantly slow the spread of COVID-19 and its variants, along with other illnesses transmitted in an airborne manner. The most effective method of protection against the coronavirus is a combination of mask wearing, vaccination, social distancing and frequent hand washing, yet mask wearing on its own is still a formidable opponent against the coronavirus.

In fact, masks are such an effective method of protection that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that the public wear face masks anywhere there is a high chance of COVID-19 transmission, such as crowded social gatherings and work places.

Epidemiological evidence is the strongest evidence that mask wearing works. For example, studies compare the COVID-19 growth rate before and after mask mandates and there is indisputable evidence that the daily growth rate of the virus slowed by 0.9 percent in 5 days and 2.0 percent at 3 weeks.

Other studies have researched deaths across many countries and found that those with societal norms or governing policies favoring masks had lower death rates than those that didn’t. 

There have also been tests in high risk scenarios, such as when a man with a dry cough wore a mask on a plane and subsequently tested positive for COVID, while those seated around him did not; and positive Missouri hairstylists who were masked up and did not infect the over 140 clients (who were also masked up) with whom they were in close contact.

You just can’t mask the evidence. While mask wearing is not 100 percent effective against all germs and viruses all of the time, it is proven to be one of the best protections against them by far. Masking up can be compared to taking blood pressure medicine, which may not protect everyone from a heart attack or stroke, but no doubt has saved countless lives.