I have been wearing a mask every time I leave my house to do anything other than exercise outdoors for the last 2 months. It’s hot. It makes my nose itch. The skin on my face gets tight and irritated. Why do people pay money to have their faces steamed as a facial treatment?!
I don’t like wearing a mask. But. If everyone wears a mask, it will save lives. There is good data supporting universal masking for COVID-19 prevention.
Researchers at Texas A&M and UC San Diego looked at epidemiological data and how the outbreak responded to different control strategies. They found that the strategy that impacted the outbreak the most in both Italy and New York City was universal masking.
China was confusing because they implemented everything at once. Social distancing, stay-at-home, contact tracing and masking were all started at the same time. In Italy and New York City, however, masking requirements were instituted some time AFTER the physical distancing requirements. This makes it possible for researchers can see the relative contributions of these measures.
It turns out the single measure that made the most difference in bending the curve was universal masking. The curves representing the outbreaks in Italy and New York City were identical, including the bend that occurred when masking was instituted. The lockdown/stay-at-home orders in Italy and NYC occurred right at the beginning of the outbreaks and may or may not have impacted the outbreaks’ course.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. It is transmitted by aerosol primarily, not by contact. Masks decrease the production of aerosols by catching droplet when the wearer breathes, coughs and sneezes. The virus particles are very very small, too small to be stopped by tightly woven cotton or other fabrics. However, the virus isn’t shed by itself. It’s shed in droplets of mucus that ARE large enough to be stopped by the fabric.
A second benefit of masking is it decreases people’s tendency to unconsciously touch their faces. Hand washing, use of hand sanitizer and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces like light switches and doorknobs decrease contact transmission. But even if you do touch a contaminated surface like a doorknob, you have to touch your eye, nose or mouth in order to get infected.
Recommendations from health authorities like CDC and WHO change based on the latest and best information. In some cases recommendations change quickly and are contradictory. This is simply because the state of understanding of COVID-19 is new. New research findings are coming out so frequently that it is hard to keep up.
We (and the health authorities) are doing the best we can with the information we have. When we know better, we do better. However, the data is coming pretty clear that universal masking for COVID-19 prevention is an important measure.