Should I Wear a Face Mask to Prevent Coronavirus?

written by Skye Sherman - Apr 20, 2020
medically reviewed by Dr. Tolulope Olabintan, MD - Jun 1, 2022

Photo Credit: by moorecollection,
Photo Credit: by moorecollection,

Most of us are staying home for the sake of social distancing, but if you’ve been outside your home in recent days or weeks, chances are you’ve seen people wearing masks. But does wearing a face mask really help? Why are people wearing face masks when they leave their homes?

As COVID-19 emerged and quickly grew into a global pandemic, opinions and recommendations for how to respond to the crisis have changed rapidly along with the spread of ever-changing information. At first, the general understanding was that wearing a mask wouldn’t provide adequate protection against the virus.

Now, however, authorities have changed their tune and wearing a mask is recommended, and more and more cities around the world are mandating the use of these masks. In fact, Market Watch reports, “Some cities have gone as far as setting fines for failing to wear a mask. In Laredo, Texas, anyone over the age of five who walks into a store or takes public transit without their mouth and nose covered by a mask or bandanna could now be fined up to $1,000.”

In this article, we’ll take a look at how wearing a face mask may help to prevent the spread of coronavirus. We’ll explain the benefits of wearing a face mask and also take a look at the different types of masks and provide instructions for how to make your own mask at home.

Keep reading to learn more about the importance of donning a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Will wearing a face mask help prevent coronavirus?

Most people are only leaving their home for essential trips, like grocery shopping or picking up prescriptions. (To avoid this extra exposure to the pandemic and instead get your prescriptions delivered straight to your door, visit our How to Order page.)

When people do leave their homes, many of them are wearing masks. Some people are still unsure about whether or not this truly helps or does anything to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While at first authorities claimed that wearing a mask would not protect you from contracting coronavirus, the CDC later came out with new recommendations and updated guidelines from the WHO.

On April 3, 2020, the CDC stated, “We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.

“In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

In their statement, the CDC also emphasized the importance of maintaining at least 6 feet of physical distance from others at all times. They recommend wearing cloth face coverings, which you can buy or make at home, and not surgical masks or N-95 respirators, which are needed by medical professionals on the front lines who are caring for ill patients.

The 30 Days to Slow the Spread guidelines from the White House encourages people to stay home if they feel sick and also recommends that all elderly and immunocompromised people stay home, whether they feel sick or not.

The benefits of wearing a face mask

So what does wearing a face mask really do? Are there any benefits?

The Wall Street Journal shares, “To wear a face mask or not? The advice has been confusing. In China, Hong Kong, and Singapore, the general public has been encouraged to wear masks to prevent getting or spreading the novel coronavirus. In the U.S., a growing chorus of experts have supported mask-wearing for the general public though there are issues with shortages and access. On Friday, the Trump administration recommended that Americans wear basic cloth or fabric face masks when in public to reduce transmission.”

In essence, the purpose of donning a face mask is to reduce transmission of COVID-19. Even those who do not feel sick can be asymptomatic, which means they are carrying the disease and are able to spread it, even if they don’t feel sick themselves.

An article in Refinery 29 explains, “Wearing cloth (non-medical) face masks when you have to leave the house can help the spread of COVID-19, according to Canada’s chief public health officer Theresa Tam. ‘It’s an additional measure that you can take to protect others around you,’ she said in a press conference on April 6. ‘A non-medical mask can reduce the chance of your respiratory droplets coming into contact with others or landing on surfaces.’”

Another Refinery 29 article explains that in America, wearing a mask during normal times is unusual or will draw strange looks, while in Asian countries, wearing a mask is viewed as a responsible civic gesture: “A person who wears a mask isn’t admitting that they are sick or paranoid: They’re acknowledging that they are aware of their civic duty regarding public health. In fact, those who refused to wear them during the outbreak — or wore them incorrectly — drew criticism. In these countries, a mask is a symbol of reassurance. It represents communal trust, a pact that we’re all in this together. … In most of America, … Seeing a civilian in a mask in public is rare, and implies an extreme situation.”

So, in summary, wearing a face mask is a responsible choice because it protects not only you and your family, but your community as a whole. Covering your face in public prevents droplets from coming into contact with your sensitive body orifices that can become infected by the virus particles, but it also prevents you from spreading your own droplets if you happen to be carrying the virus without knowing it.

It is your civic duty to not only stay home if possible, but also to take whatever precautions you can to protect yourself and those around you. Covering your nose and mouth will help to slow the spread of the virus and flatten the curve, which will result in a better chance of survival for those who do contract the disease.

To understand the benefits of wearing a face mask, look no further than Taiwan, a coronavirus success story. According to Foreign Policy, “The self-governing island now has 379 COVID-19 cases, a number that has remained relatively low due to a series of aggressive containment, quarantine, and monitoring measures that have limited local transmission of the coronavirus.”

They immediately closed their borders and masks were worn in a widespread manner, and they have had very limited cases and deaths despite their close proximity to the epicenter of the pandemic.

Dos and don’ts of wearing a face mask

There are dos and don’t to proper wear and usage of face masks. For one, you’re going to need to make sure to keep it clean and avoid cross-contamination, as that would defeat the purpose of wearing the mask in the first place. You also need to avoid touching your face or scratching under your mask.

You should of course wash it every time you knowingly come in contact with a sick person, but you should also wash it regularly after any time you use the mask or wear it out in public. If you’ve made your own cloth or fabric mask at home, you can simply throw it in with the rest of your laundry. Use hot water to sanitize the mask along with your other laundry, especially if you’ve worn these items out in public.

CTV News reports, “Face coverings and masks help prevent transmission of the virus by containing respiratory droplets that might be produced by people speaking, and prevent them from contaminating other people or surfaces, Hinshaw said. Wearing a mask can also be a good reminder for people to not touch their faces when out in public. Homemade masks and face coverings should be fitted and not gape at the sides and people need to be aware masks can become contaminated on the outside — moving or adjusting the mask increases this risk.”

Premier Jason Kenney also advised the following precautionary measures and steps to ensure the safe wear of cloth masks:

* “Avoid touching your face mask while using it.

* Wash hands before putting on a mask, then before and after removing it.

* Clean a cloth mask as soon as it gets damp or soiled.

* Put it directly in the washing machine or a bag that can be emptied into the washing machine and then be disposed of.

* Cloth masks can be laundered with other items using a hot cycle, then dried in the dryer at the highest temperature setting.

* Medical masks can’t be washed and should be discarded and replaced as soon as they get damp, soiled or crumpled.

* Dispose of these masks in a lined garbage bin.”

In addition, it’s vital to keep in mind that wearing a mask does not eliminate the need to practice physical distancing. It also does not provide full protection or make you invincible, so you need to make sure you still practice extreme caution when going out in public, even if you’re wearing a mask.

How to make your own face mask at home

So you want to wear a mask, but surgical masks and N95 respirators are in short supply and should be reserved for medical workers at the front lines. What are your other options? Make a mask at home, using materials you already have around the house.

There are a lot of tutorials and instructional videos available to show you how to make your own face mask at home. Before you get started, though, you’ll want to gather your materials and pick the right fabric to use in the project.

What type of cloth should you use? The thicker the fabric, the better. Thin, breathable fabrics can provide too much access to contaminated air with virus particles.

According to Today, “An effective homemade fabric face mask will filter out virus particles while allowing you to breathe. According to recent research, some fabrics from around your home can filter out 79% of particles … For context, surgical masks only filter out 62 to 65%. In the study, the most successful masks were made of two layers of heavyweight ‘quilters cotton’ with a thread count of at least 180 and a thicker, tighter weave. …

“Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, recommended woven fabrics over knits and discouraged using ones with bleach and other harsh chemicals. When in doubt, check to see how much light can pass through the fabric. If a lot can get through, then assume the virus could, as well.”

Check out the many online resources for patterns and step-by-step instructions to complete a face mask of your own. There are even no-sew methods available if you don’t have a needle and thread or a sewing machine. This article from People makes it easy: Coronavirus: How to Make Your Own Cloth Face Mask at Home

Not up to making your own face mask? There are also multiple places you can buy a face mask online and order it to be shipped directly to your door. In fact, many designer brands came out with fashionable top-dollar face masks in case you want to stay chic while you stay safe. You can also check CNet for where you can buy face masks and cloth coverings online.

However, many people wonder about a more permanent and effective solution than wearing a face mask. Is there a cure for COVID-19? Are there other ways to prevent or treat coronavirus? Scientists and researchers are working diligently to discover solutions and potential cures and vaccines. To learn more, check out our article Hydroxychloroquine and Covid-19: What You Should Know.



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While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. The article was written for information and educational purposes only. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.