As COVID-19 continues to run rampant across the globe, wearing a mask to prevent the spread appears to be a loaded topic.
Americans are protesting the mandatory wearing of mask because some believe their freedom is at stake, and Australia has basically been sent the message to "please just be good citizens and give it a go, but you'll probably 'be right' if you don't feel like it".
Humour aside, the topic of whether or not we should be wearing masks is one we take seriously, so we're helping to break it down. Should you be wearing a mask to prevent COVID-19?
Who should wear a mask?
According to WHO and the CDC, wearing a face mask in public (especially when social distancing is not guaranteed) is a sufficient and effective way to reduce community transmission of COVID-19 when worn correctly. The use of masks alone is not enough to prevent transmission altogether but works effectively with social distancing and regular hand washing to prevent the spreading of the virus.
If you have underlying health conditions or are over the age of 60, the WHO recommends the wearing of a medical mask (instead of fabric) when going out in public for extra caution.
How does a mask prevent transmission?
Several studies have shown that the wearing of masks can help to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The predominant reason is that there is evidence from laboratory studies of respiratory droplets and the way that masks function to block droplets from spreading through the air and onto surfaces. An experiment found that hundreds of droplets were generated when speaking a sentence, but that nearly the entirety of the droplets were blocked when the mouth was covered by a damp flannel. There is also evidence of people who had influenza or the common cold found that wearing a surgical mask significantly reduced the amount of these respiratory viruses emitted in droplets and aerosols.
From a real-time epidemiology lens, a recent article published in Health Affairs, compared the COVID-19 growth rate before and after masks became mandatory and found that mask mandates resulted in a slowing of the daily COVID-19 growth rate.
What type of mask should I be wearing?
According to the WHO, medical masks that are sufficiently waterproof and designed to prevent the spread of droplets are always best. But, due to a shortage on resources and for areas where public transmission is possible, they have reported that the wearing of fabric masks as an alternative is less effective, but is safe and sufficient. Especially for the general public when you're not a healthcare worker, don't have COVID-19 or symptoms of the virus, caring for someone with COVID-19, elderly, or someone with underlying health conditions. But in the case that you are a healthcare worker or have symptoms, medical masks are best.
Image source: @bellahadid