Is It Worth Wearing A Mask If I'm The Only One Doing So?

by Marie Holmes
Jasmin Merdan/Getty

Consistent masking does prevent Covid infection in the wearer, although some masks are more effective than others

With mask mandates being phased out in New Jersey, New York, California, Oregon, and other states, folks wearing face masks may soon be a minority, even in blue states where masking has been widespread.

Whether you have compromised immunity, a child younger than 2 years old, or simply the desire to skip a ride on the omicron train, a shift to mask-optional policies means you might be the only one left wearing one. Which raises the question, Is it worth it? Will a mask protect you if no one else has one on?

In short, yes. While scientists agree that universal masking and vaccination are the best tools we have to control infection, even if you’re the only one using a mask it still gives you significant protection against Covid.

The CDC published a study on Friday proving, yet again, that masks work. Specifically, N95 and KN95 masks are most effective, lowering wearers’ odds of Covid infection by 83%. Next up are the classic, often blue-hued surgical masks, which lower the odds of getting Covid by 66%. Cloth masks offered a 56% reduced chance of infection.

The most effective mask, however, is the one that you’re actually going to wear. Consistency is more critical than material here. “It is most important to wear a well-fitting mask or respirator [N95 or KN95] that is comfortable and can be used consistently,” say the study’s authors.

There’s really no excuse at this point for not knowing that the mask has to cover both your mouth and your nose to be of any use. Masks should also cover your chin and fit snugly, without gaps, against the sides of your face, the CDC advises on their website.

“I know it sounds painfully obvious,” Dr. Issac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, told NBC News. “You can have the best-quality masks. However, if you are removing it for prolonged periods of time in indoor spaces, for example, to eat lunch, then it’s not going to provide significant protection.”

Bottom line? Masking works best when everyone is on board, but, if not, wearing a mask still works pretty well. So if you’re concerned for any reason about getting Covid, by all means, mask up–even if it’ll make you stick out.