Cloth face coverings help to slow the spread of COVID-19, which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This is not recent news; however, a new scientific brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that wearing a face covering protects the wearer. This is a new update from the old CDC guidelines that stated that face masks only protected surrounding people.
The use of cloth masks is not a new way of blocking respiratory viruses from rapidly spreading. For example, people wore masks to help overcome the 2002 SARS epidemic, which affected 26 countries and resulted in more than 8,000 cases. SARS primarily affected Asian countries, and they were able to act quickly in the wake of COVID-19. Many Asian countries were able to reopen businesses or avoid shutting down as a result of people previous epidemic experience, but also the willingness and compliance to wear masks.
Why Masks Work
The coronavirus primarily spreads from person to person via infected respiratory droplets. An infected person can project droplets via sneezing, speaking, coughing, or breathing. According to multiple studies, the purpose of masks is to protect people from potentially infected individuals. The new CDC report claims that masks may protect both the mask wearer and the people around him or her. Masks work to reduce the inhalation of infected respiratory droplets.
Masks For Personal Protection
Multiple studies found that masks made of certain cloth materials helped reduce the wearer’s exposure to COVID-19. Depending on the material, cloth masks helped filter droplets and particles smaller than 10 microns. The effectiveness of the mask will entirely depend on the material and how the mask is worn. Click here to learn about which materials are best for cloth face coverings. Additionally, it is imperative that cloth masks be multi-layered to effectively block exhaled droplets from entering the environment and inhaled droplets or particles from getting in. Studies found that multiple layers of cloth with high thread counts blocked between 50-70% of fine droplets and particles. Multi-layered cloth masks are more effective than single layer masks. Finally, some materials are better than others at filtering or capturing particles.
How Effective Are Masks?
One report from China found that the use of masks reduced secondary transmission from an infected person to other household members by 79%. While the virus primarily spreads through larger respiratory droplets, it is possible to contract COVID-19 by inhaling smaller, infected particles that linger in the air. That is why masks can make a difference. If a person coughs or sneezes without a mask and they are infected, those droplets can linger in the air for hours. That means that other people who are not wearing masks in the vicinity are at risk. As stated above, masks could block up to 50-70% of those finer droplets, limiting the spread of COVID-19.
We can move forward as a nation if we adopt universal masking policies. The reality is that we can prevent future lockdowns and even open more businesses if we all do our part to wear masks properly (not with noses hanging out, around the ear, or with holes in the middle for eating). According to the CDC, mask-wearing could help avoid economic losses of one trillion dollars. So wear your masks properly, wash the reusable ones after each use, and continue to practice social distancing and proper hand washing techniques. It will take a united effort to overcome the pandemic, so let’s work together for the health of the nation.