As the world contends with rising cases of COVID-19, many people are surprisingly still wondering if face masks actually work well as coronavirus protection. Spoiler alert: Yes, they do!
Do you need a refresher on why this is the case? Or do you want to be well-equipped with some facts to convince your friends and family to wear face masks? Then this article is for you!
A Symbol of Safety In the New Normal
Over the past eight months, face masks have become a symbol of our battle with COVID-19, humanity's biggest hidden viral foe right now. Some people prefer wrapping a t-shirt or scarf around their faces. And others opt for surgical masks, N95 respirators, or neck gaiters (which, as we've recently written about, are just as effective as face masks).
Just a year ago, anyone wearing a face mask in public would have drawn awkward stares in several countries unused to this germ-impeding attire. Today, they serve as a bleak and cautionary reminder of the strange, dangerous times we live in. As governments across the globe ease lockdown restrictions or ramp them back up in response to a COVID-19 outbreak, we must all remember that wearing face masks is a part of our new normal — at least, for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, many people still debate about whether people should wear face mask protection or not when in public. In some places such as the United States, many prominent figures have even vocalized their refusal to wear a face mask out in public. Many polls shine a light on the effects of this debate.
One poll suggested that around 33% of Americans venture out into the public without donning a mask. Another conducted in China, Spain, and Italy found that 80% of respondents wear face masks. And yet another poll found that the UK had the lowest adoption rates, with only 36% of people wearing a mask in public back in the spring season. Since then, the UK government has made face mask-wearing compulsory in shops.
During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, many governments declared that the public did not have to wear face masks. This was mainly due to fears that fervent demand would drive down the supply available to frontline healthcare workers or that people would gain a false sense of security. Luckily, many countries, such as the US, have reversed statements on this matter.
How Face Mask Protection Makes a Difference Against COVID-19
If you know someone who is against wearing face masks, then you've probably heard this question before: Do face masks actually make a difference in our fight against COVID-19? Instead of simply saying yes, let's answer this question with some key facts.
All of the countries that managed to flatten their coronavirus curves have encouraged widespread face mask use. To understand why this is the case, we must examine how COVID-19 spreads in the first place. Once COVID-19 has infected someone, it hijacks their cells to replicate. As it multiples, COVID-19 particles burst out of these cells and float in the bodily fluids of the infected person's lungs, nose, and mouth.
When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even talks, they release showers of COVID-19 droplets into the air. A single cough can yield as much as 3000 droplets. And, while the Duke University study on neck gaiters got a lot wrong about these fabric face coverings, one thing they did get right was that humans can release thousands of droplets just by saying phrases like "Stay healthy."
Once these tiny droplet particles leave our mouths or noses, many of them quickly settle on surfaces within proximity. The smaller ones actually can remain suspended in the air for hours, where they can be breathed in and repeat the infection cycle in a new host. There are even reports that the coronavirus can spread through building ventilation systems. With that said, it's never a bad idea to leave a window open for an hour or two in a room you suspect may be infected with COVID-19 droplets.
It's Better to Be Safe than Sorry
COVID-19 has been found to survive in aerosol droplets for at least three hours. A more recent study has even suggested that the COVID-19 virus is still infectious after being suspended in aerosol droplets for more than 16 hours. The researchers found that it was "remarkably resilient in aerosol form" compared to other iterations of the coronavirus.
All of this hints that the virus can still pose a serious threat to people even if it has been lingering in the air for several hours. To make matters worse, these particles seem to be particularly prone to spreading through the air in indoor environments. In several analyses, this applied whether the transmission environment was a person's home, a restaurant, a shop, a movie theater, or public transit. A study of air samples for a Florida hospital even found COVID-19 particles to be present in the air almost 16 feet away from infected patients.
We know how scary all of this sounds. The point is to please wear face mask protection. If not for yourself, then at least do it for your family and friends. We know how uncomfortable they can feel, especially after long hours. But we must remember: We're all in this together. The world will only beat the coronavirus pandemic if we stand against it together.
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