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NEWSLETTER

Masks save lives: Here's everything you need to know.

Illustration of people wearing masks

COVID-19 rates are rising across the country and in many parts of the world, making it more critical than ever to protect ourselves and others. The greatest defence against COVID-19 is a multi-layered approach, beginning with vaccines and boosters for everyone who is eligible.

 
People who have been vaccinated and boosted are significantly more protected from serious illness, hospitalization, and death. Everyone, including those who have been vaccinated, is at risk of contracting a highly contagious variation like Omicron if they contract it. Experts estimate that if we all agree to follow mask rules and other conventional preventive measures in places where vaccination rates are low or COVID cases are on the rise, we can save thousands of lives and help limit the pandemic.
 
Why do we think masks are effective?
 
The benefits of medical and nonmedical masks are backed up by a growing amount of information. These reviews (here and here) and observational studies (here, here, here, and here) provide some of the most compelling evidence that wearing a mask reduces infection rates. Masks help trap bigger respiratory droplets as well as some of the smaller particles known as aerosols, as shown in this graphic from the New York Times.
 
Wearing a mask can help protect you from viruses that spread through the air, such as COVID-19 and colds and flu. Some individuals believe that masks trap CO2 or limit the amount of oxygen inhaled. This is not the case. When you breathe out through a mask, CO2 escapes; when you breathe in, oxygen enters.
 
There is no such thing as a perfect or definitive study; in fact, such studies would be impossible to conduct. However, there is a lot to be said about wearing a mask, and there is little to no evidence that it causes harm.


 
What is the best type of mask?
 
Wear the most protective mask you can find, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
 
Wearing masks that filter out very minute particles on a regular basis provides the best protection against highly contagious versions like Omicron. Some examples are:
 
N95 masks, which are approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), are comparable to KN95 masks, which are certified in China but not by NIOSH.
 
Counterfeit N95 and KN95 masks have become all too popular. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some helpful tips on how to recognize fake masks.
 
Surgical masks are useful, but they are less protective, mainly because of their loose fit. If you're using surgical or cotton masks, some experts recommend double-masking.
 
What about tightly woven cloth masks that totally cover the nose and mouth, have a wire bridge, and at least two layers of washable, breathable fabric? Gaiters and bandanas may provide little protection and aren't usually the first choice because they weren't designed to provide tight facial coverage and may only have one layer.
 
Virus particles can more easily escape through masks with vents or valves, hence they are discouraged.



 
Where are we still looking for solutions?
 
Here are a handful of the most frequently asked and critical questions for which we currently have no satisfactory answers.
 
Is a mask designed to protect others, the wearer, or both? When breathing, speaking, or coughing, a mask helps to prevent the spread of airborne viruses. According to current findings, the person wearing a mask benefits as well, but the greatest advantage happens when everyone wears a mask. Wearing a mask in public or inside in areas where COVID-19 instances are significant or high (see maps) may help protect you and prevent the spread to others. Remember that not all children are eligible for vaccines and boosters, and anyone with a damaged immune system due to sickness or treatment should be protected against COVID-19.
 
Is it true that wearing a mask reduces the severity of an infection? Some researchers have proposed that universal mask use could result in immunity and fewer lethal infections because masks can reduce the "dose" of viral exposure and a lower potency of exposure may result in a less severe illness. However, this is still debatable and unproven and should not be taken at face value.
 
Is it necessary to put on a mask when going outside? That is dependent on the circumstances. If you're going for a walk outside and there's no one else around, a mask isn't necessary. Wearing a mask, on the other hand, is strongly recommended if you're in close contact with individuals outdoors in a situation where keeping a safe distance isn't possible. Of course, you must adhere to all applicable local health standards and mandates.
 
Dos and Don'ts When Using a Mask
 
Masks are only effective if they are worn consistently and appropriately.
 
A mask should be able to fit firmly over your nose and mouth, with no gaps around the edges.

You'll be more likely to wear a mask if it's comfy. Try on a couple of different styles to discover which one best fits and feels.
 
Avoid the "exposed nose," "chin diaper," "dangling earring," and other inventive solutions that prevent the mask from covering your nose and mouth completely.
 
When removing a mask, just touch the loops or ties that keep it on and fold the outside corners together before discarding or washing it if it's made of cloth. Then thoroughly wash your hands.
 
Masks should be worn snugly if you have a beard.
 
Masks may be difficult to wear for children or people with specific disabilities.
 
Reusable masks should be washed and stored.



 
Summary
 
The best current research suggests that wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections, prevent waves of serious sickness from overburdening our hospitals, and perhaps save lives—including yours.

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