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Do masks work?

Does wearing a mask keep a person from contracting COVID-19?

No, wearing a mask does not keep a person from catching COVID-19. Does wearing a mask help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus?  Absolutely, when combined with other methods to combat the virus! Masks work best as a vehicle to stop the spread of the virus when combined with proper sanitation procedures such as hand washing, social distancing and vaccination.

How do masks work? How does wearing a mask combat spreading COVID-19 if wearing one does not prevent a person from catching the virus?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “a primary route of transmission of COVID-19 is via respiratory particles.” A person creates these particles when he or she breathes, coughs, sneezes or talks. Simply put, a mask helps to capture these emissions and reduces the amount of respiratory droplets in the air, thereby reducing the chance of someone else from encountering your respiratory droplets.

“Public mask wearing is most effective at reducing spread of the virus when compliance is high,” according to the CDC.

If respectable sources show masks as an effective addition to the tools used to combat the virus, why do so many people resist? Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of wearing masks to combat the virus created much controversy.
Part of this controversy started due to the contradictory information that emerged in the early days of the pandemic. When the virus started in China in late 2019, early reports out of that country discounted human-to-human transmission of the virus. China did not confirm human-to-human transmission of the virus until early January of 2020. When China did confirm human-to-human transmission, officials thought the virus spread exclusively through contact with respiratory droplets in the air.

Respiratory droplets do not linger in the air for more than a few minutes, and travel only a few feet away from a person when he or she coughs or sneezes. Therefore, health officials thought only COVID positive people needed to wear masks to reduce the transmission of the virus. Almost one year passed before health officials accepted the idea that COVID-19 spread through air borne transmission.

Wait, did not health officials say coming into contact with respiratory droplets in the air spread COVID?

Yes, but this method is not considered air borne because the particles drop to earth in a few minutes. Think of it this way: respiratory droplets are a balloon you bat. The balloon travels only a few feet before dropping to the ground. Air borne transmission is smoke from wildfires that linger in the air for weeks, and travels thousands of miles away from the source.

Health officials understood in October of 2020 that not only does a person produce respiratory droplets that quickly fall to the ground when he or she sneezes, but that person also produces a very fine mist laden with the virus that lingers in the air for hours after a person sneezes, and travels a significant distance.

When Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said that most masks do nothing to stop the spread of COVID-19, he spoke a small kernel of truth. Many masks and face coverings that people purchase in stores do not work because they do not fit well; these masks leave gaps around the nose and chin that allows a fine mist to escape when we breathe, cough or sneeze.

People that wear glasses understand. It gets incredibly difficult to position the mask to where escaping breath does not fog up the glasses. If air escapes when a person breathes, imagine what happens when a person coughs or sneezes! A fine mist goes air borne that stays aloft for hours.

If air escapes from these gaps when you breathe, air also enters in when taking in a breath. In this situation, the air a person intakes bypasses the mask, and if COVID is in the air a person breathes it in. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic, one of the most renowned medical facilities on the planet, “the effectiveness of cloth and medical masks can be improved by ensuring that masks are well fitted to the contours of your face to prevent leakage of air around the mask’s edges.”

In conclusion, a mask works best when combined with other measures to combat the virus, not as a stand-alone solution.

A mask must be well fitted to the face to prevent air from escaping, combined with proper sanitation procedures, social distancing and vaccination. These steps help to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

By Ralph Dickerson

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