The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highly recommends using face masks to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, yet the topic of masks has been the center of controversial debates.

Richelle Guerrero-Wooley, MD, an infectious disease physician at Loma Linda University Health, says the growing evidence supporting masking is essential to know — especially with flu season around the corner. “There are many misconceptions about the efficacy of wearing a mask,” she says. “The scientific evidence has shown that masks are effective in reducing the spread of the virus when used correctly.”

Guerrero-Wooley says the virus has multiple modes of transmission, and with asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals spreading the virus, a mask is the best defense.

Reduced transmission

The virus could be under control in as few as four weeks if universal masking were followed, according to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Without universal masking, those who may believe they are healthy may be spreading the virus unwittingly. “If you wait until you’re sick to wear a mask, you risk passing the virus to those around you and lengthen the time we’ll see this virus posing a threat to the country,” Guerrero-Wooley says.

Safe communities

People in places that are more vulnerable, highly populated, or showing increasing infection rates should be incredibly diligent about wearing masks. Some cities have implemented fines for citizens refusing to mask. “Masks may make the wearer feel restricted, but the benefit for your community’s health far outweighs the discomfort,” Guerrero-Wooley says. “When we all wear masks, we protect one another.”

Mask mechanics 

Masks work as a barrier to block small particles from entering your mouth and nose, keeping you safe from viruses — like COVID-19 or influenzas. SARS-CoV-2 can survive on surfaces, but the greater threat for transmission exists in the air.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the coronavirus may be passed via respiratory droplets and aerosols, which can remain in the air for up to three hours. “You can get the virus from someone who was in a room hours before you, meaning it’s crucial to wear your mask when you’re in any public place — not just when you cannot socially distance,” Guerrero-Wooley says.

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