Q: How do masks prevent the spread of COVID-19?
A: It’s been just six months since scientists became aware of the new coronavirus in humans, and since it was first discovered, what experts have learned about curbing the spread of the disease has changed rapidly.
One of the most significant changes in recommendations is how to use masks. Initially, public health officials urged masks to be conserved for health care workers who were directly interacting with COVID-19 patients. But as scientists continued to study the virus, and ways to prevent its spread, it became clear that the primary way the virus spreads is through small, respiratory droplets that are emitted when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings.
Because scientists now recognize this as the primary method of spread, wearing a cloth covering on your mouth and nose, “reduces the amount of virus you might spread into the air and onto surfaces if you happen to be sick. This would help slow transmission,” according to Dr. Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.
Masks won’t block all of the particles you emit, but depending on the type of the mask, studies have shown they can block a majority of those particles depending on the quality of the masks. And experts say that most masks provide the best chance of protection for others in proximity to the mask wearer, although there may be some benefit to the wearer as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a “cloth face cover is meant to protect other people in case you are infected.