By Grace Helbling
Many people have different views on masks. Some hate them, some can tolerate them, and some wear them without complaint. Wearing a mask isn’t just for protecting ourselves; it’s to protect others, in case you are sick without symptoms. If you are skeptical about wearing a mask and whether or not they work, then you can learn about how and why masks work by reading this article, as well as how to differentiate between myths and facts.
How and Why do Masks Work?
If you are wearing a mask, you may be asking why you have to wear it. The short answer is that you are protecting others by keeping your germs to yourself. Masks work because they catch tiny respiratory droplets that escape your body while talking, breathing, and sneezing. As they leave your body, they are caught by the inner layer of your mask. When other people sneeze, cough, or breath on you, the respiratory droplets are caught by the outer layer of your mask. If nobody is wearing a mask, then those respiratory droplets can land into someone’s nose or mouth, and they can carry a virus or other sickness.
The Myths of Masks
Lots of myths and rumors have been spread about COVID-19, and many involve the effectiveness of masks. Most of these myths say that masks do not work or that you can get sick if you wear one.
“Masks don’t work.”
A mask that fits you right and is worn correctly will provide some protection. If you don’t cover your mouth AND nose, then you might be at risk for getting the virus, especially if those around you are not wearing proper face coverings. If a mask is too big, then respiratory droplets can get inside your mask, and your respiratory droplets can escape. If a mask is too small, then your respiratory droplets will be pushed out of your mask. Masks will work, if you wear them correctly.
“I can get sick from carbon dioxide build-up inside my mask.”
Yes, you can get sick from carbon dioxide build-up, but carbon dioxide will not build up inside your mask. Oxygen can get inside your mask just as well as carbon dioxide can get out. And just because oxygen and carbon dioxide can enter and exit your mask does not mean it won’t work. The molecules that make up oxygen and carbon dioxide are much smaller than the respiratory droplets that carry germs.
The Facts About Masks
Although many of these myths are causing people to not wear masks, they have no scientific evidence supporting them. The information on the CDC website is a reliable source for finding the facts about masks.
“Wearing a mask does not replace social distancing.”
Even though you are wearing a mask, it is important to distance from those who are not in your household. Bacteria on someone’s skin can still get onto yours, and you can still contract a sickness if you touch your face. Also, not all masks are made the same, so some are more effective than others. N95 masks are used by medical professionals and are far more effective than regular one-ply cloth masks.
“A mask can protect my family, and everyone around me, including myself.”
A mask catches your and everyone else’s respiratory droplets, on the inside and out. Although you may be touching your face more often to adjust your mask, you can protect yourself by practicing good hygiene, including using hand sanitizer and washing your hands after touching a commonly used surface, and after blowing your nose or coughing into a tissue. Masks will get dirty after use, so they should be washed regularly to kill any germs that are on them.
The Bottom Line
To protect yourself and others, wearing a mask is important. Washing your hands, taking regular showers and staying home when you are sick can all stop the spread of germs, viruses, and bacteria. It may be hard to miss out on school activities or seeing family and friends, but it will help everyone in time.