Who do face masks protect — you or those around you? Previously, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claimed that masks only offered protection for those around the mask wearer. But the national institution recently made a more declarative statement: face mask protection benefits both wearers and the people in close proximity to them.
Face Masks Protect Our Health and Our Economy
In a recently released document, the CDC claimed that "Experimental and epidemiological data support community masking to reduce the spread [of COVID-19]. Individual benefit increases with increasing community mask use." These straightforward and unambiguous statements couldn't be a more drastic departure from language previously used by the agency, which simply suggested that mask use could prevent coronavirus infections.
It's worth noting that the CDC also emphasized that flattening the COVID-19 infection curve doesn't only depend on each of us as individuals — it takes a unified community: "The main protection individuals gain from masking occurs when others in their communities also wear face coverings."
The agency also believes that if just 15% more people donned coronavirus protection masks, no lockdowns would be needed. In turn, this would reduce economic losses by up to $1 trillion, which is approximately 5% of the US gross domestic product.
Numerous health experts believe that the CDC's newly revised, firm stance on face masks is a step in the right direction. Infectious disease expert Dr. Monica Gandhi thinks this will help convince several people in the country who are still skeptical of the benefits of masking: "I would encourage every American to adhere to masking guidelines now that we hear more clearly today that this will protect you and others. We cannot afford more lockdowns, but we can do our part to stop COVID-19 transmission and disease."
Evidence To Back up the Benefits of Universal Masking
The CDC based its unequivocal statements about the benefits of universal masking on several observational studies. Let's examine a few of them to understand the institute came to this conclusion:
- Two hairstylists showing symptoms of COVID-19 interacted with a total of 139 clients for an average time of 15 minutes each over the course of eight days. This was considered a high-exposure event. Every single person involved in this situation wore face mask protection since it was required by company policy and local ordinance. Of the 67 clients who agreed to an interview and test for infection, none of them were infected.
- A study of 124 Beijing households with at least one lab-confirmed infection of the coronavirus found that mask usage by presymptomatic patients and their family members reduced secondary transmission by 79%.
- Health authorities in Thailand interviewed more than 1,000 people during a contact tracing investigation. They found that participants who reported that they always wore face masks during high exposure events experienced a 70% reduction in infection risk compared to those who didn't don a mask.
- The USS Theodore Roosevelt would be considered a high-risk environment for COVID-19 transmission due to its close working conditions and congregate living quarters. After an outbreak occurred on the ship, investigators discovered that face mask-wearing reduced the risk of infection by 70%.
- An investigation was conducted into flights lasting longer than 10 hours that had infected passengers on board the airplanes. It's strongly suggested that mask-wearing prevented in-flight transmissions since no infections developed in crew and other passengers on the flight 14 days after exposure.
The Bottom Line? Wear Face Masks!
With the evidence above, the CDC has recommended community use of face masks to prevent COVID-19 transmission. More specifically, the agency recommends non-valved multi-layer cloth face mask options. Asymptomatic or presymptomatic coronavirus carriers are estimated to be responsible for more than 50% of transmissions. By wearing face masks, these people can drastically reduce their emission of virus-containing air droplets. On the other hand, masks also help non-infected wearers reduce their contact with these aerosols.
Multi-layer cloth face mask protection is effective in blocking the majority of large droplets (~20-30 microns and larger) as well as guarding against the exhalation of finer particles that are smaller than 10 microns. Not only does it block up to 50 to 70% of these smaller droplets, but it also restricts the forward spread of those not completely stopped.
If all of these facts and figures overwhelm you, don't worry — there's only one main takeaway from this article: Wear your face mask! Encourage your loved ones to wear them as well! The numbers don't lie. Wearing face masks is one of the best measures we can take to protect ourselves during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the more people that don a face mask, the better for our health and our economy.
We hope you found this article informative. If you're having trouble convincing a friend or family member about the benefits of masking, don't hesitate to share this with them. Stay safe out there!
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