Properly worn face masks have been proven to protect you and others from COVID-19, but misinformation persists.
cases have skyrocketed in January, making it clear that face masks aren’t going away anytime soon. And the White House is gearing up to send 400 million high-quality masks to pharmacies and health centers for free. Once available, people in the US can get a pack of three N95 masks at no charge.
In December, President Joe Biden also extended the federal mask mandate — which applies to those riding buses, trains and airplanes, and those entering federal buildings — at least through March 18.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization agree that properly over your nose and mouth is proven to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 852,000 Americans.
But there are still many misconceptions about face masks, from who needs to wear them to which are the best kind, so we’re addressing the most common here, backed by information from experts. For more, get the latest about, what to know about and , and whether to include booster shots.
When the COVID-19 vaccines were first administered, the CDC and WHO changed their guidelines to say those who were fully vaccinated didn’t have to wear masks anymore. However, those guidelines changed when the highly contagious and deadly delta variant spread causedamong vaccinated individuals.
Since COVID-19 vaccines are not 100% effective and anyone can carry and spread the coronavirus, both the WHO and CDC recommend that everyone, vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, wear masks while in indoor public places.
Though a cloth covering alone may not completely prevent someone from spreading the coronavirus, it still reduces the likelihood. If a cloth mask is all you have, it can still work as a physical barrier by absorbing respiratory droplets that carry the coronavirus.
“Any mask is better than no mask,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a COVID-19 briefing. Her agency recommends well-fitted masks, which can include multiple layers of cloth masks.
Walensky added that the CDC is updating its website “to best reflect the [mask] options available and the different levels of protection they provide.”
Still, the most protective masks are N95 respirators, which block, and they’re much easier to find now than they were at the start of the pandemic. If you’re worried that using N95 masks will mean frontline workers won’t have access to them, that’s not such a concern anymore. White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said that “the government has a strong stockpile of 750 million masks for health care workers and first responders.”
President Biden said his administration would be making high-quality masks available for free, with details coming this week.
If you’re not experiencing CDC cites more than a dozen studies indicating that or presymptomatic people can still spread the virus., it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not infected: The
If you’re going out in public or will be around people who aren’t part of your household, wear a face mask to protect them, even if you’re vaccinated. You could be sick without realizing it, either because you’re asymptomatic, presymptomatic or blaming mild symptoms on other causes, such as allergies. People who are mildly affected can still spread the virus to others, including those at higher risk of developing severe forms of COVID-19.
Scientists and medical experts generally agree that: Wearing a mask forms a barrier that traps virus-containing droplets emitted by the wearer. In other words, if you’re not wearing a mask and you breathe in the same air as an infected person who also isn’t wearing a mask, your risk of acquiring the coronavirus increases dramatically.
Even fully vaccinated people should continue wearing face masks.
According to the CDC, while the primary function of masks is to block the release of “exhaled respiratory particles into the environment,” several studies have illustrated that cloth masks can also reduce the wearer’s exposure to infectious droplets through filtration — including particles less than 10 microns.
“Multiple layers of cloth with higher thread counts have demonstrated superior performance compared to single layers of cloth with lower thread counts,” the agency wrote in a release, “in some cases filtering nearly 50% of fine particles less than 1 micron.”
Some materials, like polypropylene, may enhance filtration by generating static electricity that enhances the capture of charged particles.
Beyond the material and number of layers of your mask, improving its fit can improve filtration, as well. “Examples include but are not limited to mask fitters, knotting-and-tucking the ear loops of medical procedure masks, using a cloth mask placed over a medical procedure mask, and nylon hosiery sleeves,” the CDC stated.
Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician with the University of California, San Francisco, argued in a 2020 report in the Journal of General Internal Medicine that, even if someone does become infected with COVID-19, wearing a mask can reduce the severity of their illness. The mask “reduces the ‘inoculum’ or dose of the virus for the mask-wearer, leading to more mild and asymptomatic infection manifestations,” Gandhi wrote.
When worn properly, masks completely cover your nose and mouth — from the bridge of the nose (above the nostrils) down below the chin, without gaps on the sides.
Some people have suggested that surgical masks trap exhaled carbon dioxide and cause the wearer to JAMA retracted the report two weeks later, citing problems with the study’s methodology, data and conclusions.. This myth received much attention after a June 2021 letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested high levels of carbon dioxide in children wearing surgical masks.
WHO confirms that the prolonged use of surgical masks doesn’t lead to CO2 intoxication or lack of oxygen. And research from the American Thoracic Society demonstrated that face masks do not generate dangerous levels of carbon dioxide, even in patients with severe lung disease.
As Fast.ai notes, COVID-19 particles are 100 nanometers in diameter while carbon dioxide molecules are just 0.33 nanometer, exponentially smaller and nearly impossible to block with a mask.
People wear masks when in public or with strangers to reduce their chances of getting or spreading the coronavirus. However, the WHO says the use of masks alone isn’t enough to provide a sufficient amount of protection. Unlike , there’s no regulatory body governing the materials or production of cloth masks.
Along with wearing a mask properly, you should continue to practice physical distancing, wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face. The CDC still recommends staying at least 6 feet away from people whenever possible, even when masked.
The weakened immune system myth stems from the idea that the human immune system is strengthened by exposure to bacteria and other pathogens.
The American Lung Association says there’s no scientific evidence that wearing a mask weakens the immune system. However, even young and healthy people, without preexisting conditions, can catch and spread COVID-19: As of Jan. 12, 18 to 34-year-olds were the demographic with the highest number of reported cases in California, according to the state Department of Public Health.
Washing your hands and wearing a mask won’t negatively impact your immune system, especially in adults. In fact, researchers at the National Institutes of Health published a study in February suggesting that face masks may actually help your immune system. The humidity created by masks hydrates the respiratory tract, creating proteins called interferons that bolster your immune system, adding additional protection against COVID-19.
Research has demonstrated that the odds of spreading COVID-19 outdoors are as much as 19 times lower than spreading it indoors, but you should still wear a mask in outside areas where physical distancing isn’t possible. For example, if you’re hiking on a busy trail, going to an outdoor concert or enjoying an amusement park.
You don’t have to wear a mask outdoors if you’re running in a secluded area or if you’re spending time in your own backyard with the people you live with. If you plan on going to a crowded outdoor area, however, you should (and may be required to) mask up.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.