Do Masks Really Work?

August 24, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Thomas Bader, M.D. contributes to topics such as Medical Quality.

It seems that masks are here to stay as a part of our everyday lives, as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across the globe.

Many states are now making it mandatory for all people to wear a cloth face mask when in public settings and when around people who aren’t in the same household. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its guidelines suggesting that cloth face coverings now be worn by everyone who comes in close contact with others in crowded or close quarters where social distancing cannot be maintained.

Some domestic and international studies have shown that wearing a mask can help contain large respiratory droplets containing the virus from traveling through the air. Since many cases of COVID-19 occur without symptoms, it’s critical that everyone wear a mask in public so that all are protected.

Do Masks Stop COVID-19?

Yes – there are two ways that masks can help stop COVID-19. They are:

Reducing airborne respiratory droplets

Cloth face masks can act as an extra layer of protection on top of all the other safety measures we take like social distancing, frequent handwashing and cleaning. If everyone in a public setting is wearing a well-fitting, well-made mask, it can provide an extra level of safety since viral particles will largely be contained in each person’s mask.

By everyone doing their part and wearing a mask, it can significantly decrease the amount of respiratory droplets in the air which can limit the spread of COVID-19, even if you don’t know that you have it.

Creating a physical barrier

An N95 mask is a type of respirator that is rated to block up to 95% of small particles in the air, including COVID-19 viral particles. The materials and fit of this mask provide a physical barrier that traps the viral particles on the outside of the mask.

According to a Stanford study, a home-made cloth mask can function as well or better than a surgical mask when constructed properly with high-quality materials. They, and now the WHO, recommend a cloth mask with at least three layers of different materials.

  • The outermost later should be made of a fabric that is somewhat water resistant like a polyester/cotton or nylon blend.
  • The middle layer should be a spun material like vacuum cleaner bags or 3-ply disposable tissues.
  • The inner layer should consist of a wicking material to draw moisture from the face. Old gym attire or 100 percent cotton t-shirts are a great choice.

What are the differences between a surgical mask and a cloth mask?

If you’re getting care at a hospital or doctor’s office, you may notice different types of masks and have questions about what they’re used for – we’ve answered five of the top questions for you here.

Next Steps and Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.