The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), spreads by respiratory droplets and aerosols when an infected person coughs, speaks, and breathes.
Throughout the pandemic, health experts have recommended the use of face masks to protect oneself from the virus. Now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that the wearing of masks protects not only the wearers but also everyone around them from contracting COVID-19.
The CDC added that adopting universal mask policies can help prevent future lockdowns, particularly in conjunction with other mitigation strategies such as physical or social distancing, regular hand washing, and proper ventilation.
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SARS-CoV-2 spreads mainly through respiratory droplets and, on some occasions, through aerosols in the air. Infectious disease experts have long said that when a person covers their mouth and nose, it protects those who are around from getting the virus.
During the pandemic, health experts recommend that everyone, not only those who are sick, wear masks to avert contracting the virus, which has infected over 51.98 million people across the globe.
Masks are primarily intended to reduce the emission of virus-laden droplets, which is important for those who are asymptomatic (those exhibiting no symptoms but are infected) or presymptomatic (those who have not yet experienced the onset of symptoms). These individuals account for about 50 percent of SARS-CoV-2 transmissions.
Health experts recommend using masks for residents whenever they go outdoors or when they go into indoor spaces without proper ventilation, such as offices and grocery stores.
The CDC recommends wearing multi-layer cloth masks, which are effective in blocking the release of exhaled respiratory droplets into the air. Cloth masks can block most large droplets and even small ones. Multi-layer cloth masks can block up to 50 to 70 percent of fine droplets and virus-laden particles.
The CDC said that residents should not use surgical masks and N95 masks that are intended for healthcare workers who are handling infectious patients. When the public uses these masks, it may lead to an inadequate supply for those working on the frontlines.
Further, masks help reduce the inhalation of the droplets by the wearers, which helps filter virus particles for personal protection.
“The community benefit of masking for SARS-CoV-2 control is due to the combination of these effects; individual prevention benefit increases with increasing numbers of people using masks consistently and correctly,” the CDC wrote in the report.
Studies have shown that cloth masks can also reduce the wearer’s exposure to infectious particles suspended in the air or when other people speak, cough, sneeze or breathe.
“Multiple layers of cloth with higher thread counts have demonstrated superior performance compared to single layers of cloth with lower thread counts, in some cases filtering nearly 50% of fine particles less than 1 micron,” the CDC added.
Studies supporting universal masking
Many studies have shown the effectiveness of wearing face masks amid the pandemic. One study by researchers at the CDC revealed that two hairstylists who had symptoms interacted for an average of 15 minutes with each of the 139 clients for eight days. Of the clients, none contracted the virus.
The hairstylists wore face masks throughout their interaction with all the clients. The study shows that complying with the community’s face covering policy.
A study in China noted that among the 124 Beijing households with more than one confirmed COVID-19 case, using a mask by the index patient and family contacts before symptoms appeared reduced secondary transmission in the household by as much as 79 percent.
The researchers noted that more studies are needed to determine which mask materials are the most effective.
“Further research is needed to expand the evidence base for the protective effect of cloth masks and in particular to identify the combinations of materials that maximize both their blocking and filtering effectiveness, as well as fit, comfort, durability, and consumer appeal,” the CDC report concluded.