Well this is fun, isn’t it? The not knowing what to believe. Hearing one expert say that yes, we need to wear masks and social distance, but Sally down the street says her friend is a blah-blah-blah-ologist and he says masks are stupid and pointless. And while your gut tells you that yes, masks help and your family should wear them, your head questions… what if Sally’s friend is onto something?
So you head to the trusty old Google and type “should I wear a mask?” and 9 bajillion sources pop up that say everything from “YES YES YES, it’s the only way to fight COVID-19” to “only if your mask is dipped in holy water and lined with 5 eyelashes from a pygmy goat and 3 sprigs of rosemary.”
So you shut off your phone or computer, curl up into a ball of overwhelm and confusion, and try to drown out the world.
And repeat forever.
So yeah, super fun!
Listen, we know you’re confused by the over-abundance of conflicting information floating around the internet, and in your social circles, and at your job, and from your mother-in-law. So here are some myths about masks that are just that—myths. Myths that spread untruths and will undoubtedly make this pandemic drag on as they encourage people to make unsafe choices. Myths that doctors and nurses and researchers and all types of medical professionals say are untrue.
1. Wearing a mask does nothing to protect me.
COVID-19 is passed through viral droplets that come out of a person’s nose or mouth when they sneeze, breathe, or talk. Study after study has proven this fact. So, it’s common sense to think that any barrier—even a cloth one—can stop at least some of those droplets. Is it a 100% guarantee? No, but nothing in life really is. It’s like condoms. When used effectively, you pretty much can count on not getting pregnant. But does one stubborn bugger slip through every now and again? Yep. So yeah, there’s not much we can do to 100% guarantee we won’t contract the coronavirus, but masks help. A lot. Cleveland Clinic, a worldwide leader in research, education, and health information, along with, you know, every other reputable medical source, agrees.
“Studies have demonstrated that cloth masks reduce the number of microorganisms that someone releases into the air. So the more people wear masks in an area, the fewer potential viral droplets go into the space, and the less risk that someone will be exposed to the virus,” infectious disease specialists at Cleveland Clinic say. And also, “If you have a mask on, it’s harder to touch your nose and mouth, which experts say could be another way that the virus gets into the body.”
2. Wearing a mask will give me CO2 poisoning.
Again, no. This has also been debunked by Cleveland Clinic, who says, “While inhaling high levels of carbon dioxide is dangerous, this is very unlikely to happen from wearing a cloth face mask.”
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that CO2 particles are so small that they’ll pass through masks, allowing the person to breathe properly. COVID-19 particles, however, although still so small they can only been seen on specialized microscope, are still large enough to be stopped by masks.
This is why medical staff, who wear masks for hours on end, can safely breathe through their masks throughout their long, grueling shifts. And, this is why the greater risk is not wearing a mask when in public and around other people, and potentially breathing in or out contaminated air.
3. I don’t need to wear a mask if I’m not sick.
Well, for the bajillionth time, COVID-19 can be passed by asymptomatic people. That means people don’t know they are carrying it because they don’t feel sick, yet they walk around and breathe infected water droplets in the air that will make their way into other people’s bodies.
Secondly, and also for the umpteenth time, mask-wearing is how we all do our part to stop the spread of this disease. Wearing a mask means I won’t breathe out my potentially infectious water droplets into your air, and also means I am helping to protect potentially infected water droplets from coming into my own body. This is what you do in a pandemic. Look at historical photos of pandemics in history. Know what you’ll see? MASKS.
Masks are “an added layer of protection,” AARP says, echoing the CDC’s guidelines. Because some infected people might be presymptomatic or even asymptomatic, and as such are at risk of unknowingly spreading the virus to others, a face mask provides a much-needed extra layer or barrier.
4. If I wear a mask, I can go wherever I want, and safely join crowds of people without any risk.
Nope. Sorry, Sally, but masks alone aren’t enough. Just like social distancing alone isn’t enough. And like frequent hand washing isn’t enough. We all have to do all the things. If you just social distance, you don’t know when someone might come into your 6-foot bubble and you could share infected airspace. If you just wash your hands a lot, you’re exposing yourself to infection in other ways. The only way to get through a global pandemic that’s already taken 120,000 American lives is to take all safety precautions.
In an NPR article, two epidemiologists weighed in on risks we must still consider as we enter summer. Dr. William Miller, an epidemiologist at Ohio State University, says, “We can think of transmission risk with a simple phrase: time, space, people, place.” And he goes on to explain that “The more time you spend and the closer in space you are to any infected people, the higher your risk. Interacting with more people raises your risk, and indoor places are riskier than outdoors.”
Also, Dr. Emily Landon, a hospital epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist at University of Chicago Medicine, adds this rule: “Always choose outdoors over indoor, always choose masking over not masking, and always choose more space for fewer people over a smaller space.”
5. I have to wear a surgical mask or N95 respirator.
There’s a reason so many of us are making or buying simple, cloth masks. The CDC recommends we all use a face covering, but that surgical masks and N95 respirators be reserved for those on the frontlines in medical offices, AARP reports.
Furthermore, as reported on NPR, Linsey Marr, a researcher at Virginia Tech who studies the airborne transmission of viruses, says that even homemade cloth masks are effective and important. Referencing a study published in Nature Medicine, Marr says, “If you’re talking, when things are coming out of your mouth, they’re coming out fast,” Marr says. “They’re going to slam into the cloth mask. Even a low-quality mask can block a lot of those droplets.”
So here it is. Wear a mask that closely fits over your nose and mouth when you are in public. Wash it often. Wash your hands often, with warm water and soap. Don’t touch your face. Practice social distancing. Avoid crowds. Stay home if you are showing symptoms of COVID-19. Do all of it. Every day. Even if you’re tired of doing all of it. Because COVID-19 is still raging, especially in the U.S., and doing all of the things is our only choice.