Wearing a face mask is still a valid choice to reduce COVID-19 infections – even if others don’t

Studies indicate that while wearing a mask is not 100% effective, there is no harm in wearing a mask

Masking rules are relaxed in Ontario, but experts say it’s still a smart choice to wear a face mask even if others don’t.

It was described in an article in the latest issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) that talked about the concept of “one-way masking”. One-way meaning refers to the fact that if you wear a mask, others don’t.

CMAJ’s Lauren Vogel article reviews new information from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in the United States which examines the effectiveness of face coverings in preventing the acquisition of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) infection.

“Face masks work best to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 when everyone is wearing one. But experts say it’s still worth wearing a mask to protect yourself, even if no one else the fact”, according to Vogel’s article.

“While public health messages have tended to stress the importance of wearing a mask to protect others, numerous studies have shown that the right mask also protects the wearer,” the article continues.

It is timely as masking requirements have been lifted in most situations in Ontario and by June 11 most sites in Ontario will be without a mask.

In the summary on the effectiveness of mask-wearing, the CDC report contained three key findings:

  1. Face masks or respirators (N95/KN95) effectively filter virus-sized particles in the laboratory. The actual effectiveness of face coverings in preventing the acquisition of SARS-CoV-2 infection has not been widely studied.
  2. Constant use of a face mask or respirator in indoor public places was associated with a lower likelihood of a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result. The use of higher filtration capacity respirators was associated with the greatest protection, compared to no mask use.
  3. In addition to being up to date with recommended COVID-19 vaccinations, consistently wearing a comfortable, well-fitting face mask or respirator in indoor public places protects against acquiring SARS- CoV-2; a respirator provides the best protection.

“Recent data from the United States showed that people who always wore a face mask in indoor public places were less likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 than those who never wore a mask,” said stated the CMAJ article.

“Better quality masks offered better protection. Wearing an N95 or KN95 respirator reduced the risk of infection by 83%, while wearing a surgical mask or a cloth mask reduced the risk of 66% and 56%, respectively,” the article continues.

In short, using a face mask is better than no mask at all as long as the virus is still around.

The CDC also said that in most cases, and for people who believe in science, it’s okay to wear a mask.

“Research supports that under most circumstances, mask wearing does not have significant adverse health effects for wearers,” the CDC study said. This included studies of healthy hospital workers, the elderly, and adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who all reported minimal or no changes in oxygen or carbon dioxide levels while wearing cloth or surgical mask during rest or moderate physical activity.

Scientific journals are careful to warn that any mask is not guaranteed to be infection safe. Studies have indicated that a person wearing a mask can still become infected if they spend enough time (15 minutes to 75 minutes) in close company with an infected person.

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