Does wearing a mask make getting a severe COVID infection less likely?
The short answer is YES. Epidemiologists and most scientific agencies agree that wearing a mask significantly lowers the spread of virus by reducing the spread of one’s own droplet spread.
The other reason is that new data published in Tuesday’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine suggest that wearing a mask can also potentially reduce the severity of illness if you are exposed to someone with the COVID-19 virus.
Dr. Monica Gandhi and Dr. George Rutherford, infectious disease specialists at UC San Francisco have studied this idea and propose that “masks cut down the amount of viral particles flying around — so if you’re infected, you’ll get a lower dose and less severe symptoms,” said Rutherford. Studies show that masks may not filter out all droplets — a mask’s filtering capacity is determined by its type — and it’s still possible for the virus to sneak through, but at a lower dose than for someone not wearing a mask at all.
Dr. Gandhi and Dr. Rutherford referred to studies done in hamsters living in mask covered cages showing lower incidence and severity of illness from COVID-19. In addition we have recent information from countries such as Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand, where mask wearing was commonplace, that show markedly lower numbers of total infections and severity.
This is indeed very important as many of us find ourselves with mask fatigue. If you can protect others and also reduce your own potential infection, all the more reason to wear a mask that fits you well.
(Prerana Sangani, MD, September 9, 2020)
Swarthmore College (undergrad)
University of Rochester (med school)
UC Berkeley (MPH)
California Pacific Medical Center (residency)