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Does a Face Mask Protect You Against Coronavirus? Data vs. Opinions

Some journalists and specialists have stated that face masks don't protect you against viruses, and they have received much media attention in stating these things, so that many people have asked "Does a face mask protect you against the COVID-19 coronavirus?" Or any virus? Research data says yes, face masks can give you a lot of protection against viruses, if worn well and of the right materials, but the extent of protection varies by situation.

You can always find specialists of different and opposing opinions. It is up to you to exercise critical thinking skills, and analyze.

This page was largely written during the early times of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many "experts" were saying face masks don't give you much protection, and many people in the public believed them, or otherwise resisted face mask usage. It seems in the time since I wrote this that the general public has largely now gone onto the side of face masks, not because of me, but because of the obvious and arguments of many others, too, in the mass media. Nevertheless, I will leave this page posted here, as it has information on it which is important to understand.

On this website, I point out and explain the research data I have found, which shows that face masks can give you a lot of protection. It's recommended you check the actual research data, and based on that, assess the different expert opinions yourself.

As an analogy, car seat belts don't give you complete protection against any injury in all automobile accidents, but that's not a good enough reason to not wear safety belts, because they can give you a lot of protection from many accidents, sometimes no injury, and sometimes much less injury, but sometimes people die anyway with their seat belts on.

To summarize briefly:

  • It is true that a surgical face mask is designed mainly to protect patients from doctors & nurses, and much less to protect doctors & nurses from patients. However, they still do give considerable protection to doctors & nurses. The main vulnerability is that surgical face masks leak air around the mask, so viruses bypass the mask entirely. This is why we have invented an external sealer for surgical face masks as a solution.

  • Some people believe that because viruses are so small, the masks cannot filter them because air pathways through the mask are so much wider than the viruses. However, viruses bounce around among face mask fibers, and surgical face masks are made of a special material (nonwoven polypropylene) which viruses stick to. Again, research has shown this.

  • Research shows that smaller doses of viral particles may result in less illness, so if a surgical face mask reduces the dose of viral particles, then it might make a difference between fatality vs. recoverable illness, or illness vs. no infection. The terminology is "minimum infectious dose", or else "infectious dose" for how much different doses cause various degrees of illness, and there's considerable research on that for various pathogens. (There are many factors, but you get the general idea...) Therefore, even if a face mask doesn't protect you clearly, it should not be said that they don't protect you at all.

  • Many surgeons, doctors, and bureaucrats do not read the scientific research literature on surgical face mask virus capturing, and just repeat the opinions of other specialists who also apparently haven't read that scientific research literature, so it can become a groupthink parroting of advice until it's urban legend. Many public figures have taken the "management track" instead of the "technical track" and actually don't read much research report data in detail. Lowly journalists repeat them. Not many people want to publicly question their bosses and the establishment. Some researchers pursuing objective truth do publish the data, but that doesn't mean many people read it, or do much with it publicly. This website cites research data on surgical face masks capturing virus size particles which shows that typical surgical face mask material actually captures a significant percentage of virus particles, and even more if sealed.

  • I get tired of hearing the old standard line that N95 and surgical face masks should be single use and thrown away, not reused. In an ideal world with lots of supplies, yeah, but during a time of mask shortage, let's get realistic. What's wrong with disinfecting, optionally cleaning, and re-using masks, physically, during a period of mask shortage? Properly reused masks should still work much better than no mask, and I see no reason and no research data to indicate that a carefully disinfected mask has degraded substantially. Many people say the public should not wear face masks because there is a shortage whereby doctors & nurses don't have them, but if people were encouraged to re-use one mask, after disinfecting (and maybe cleaning occasionally), then that could reduce the pandemic to protect doctors & nurses as well as others in the general public -- so that encouraging reuse of face masks, and providing guidance on disinfecting and cleaning them could make a big difference in the pandemic.

  • If you cannot get your hands on an N95 or surgical face mask, then just use what you can. After all, a handkerchief is much better than coughing into the open air or into your hand (and then touching a door knob...). A home made mask can help protect others if you are sick, but it does not completely help others because a large percent of viruses can pass through ordinary woven fabrics typically found around the house. This is because they can capture many large sputum particles when you cough. However, ordinary woven cloth doesn't help much in protecting you against other peoples' viruses. It is much better to use surgical face mask material or an N95 mask ... if you can get one.

  • Yes, you also should stay away from coughing and contagious people, avoid crowds, avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth, use disinfectants, and wash your hands well with soap and water, but all that advice should not be a substitute for not using a face mask. Using a face mask should go together with all that.

It is important to look past the politics, and look at the actual scientific research. It's important not to just rationalize based on what we desire.

I want to see the economies reopened. I think we can do this if everybody wears a good face mask and practices good hygiene, exercises social distancing when reasonable, and takes other measures. I think that quality face masks are a very important part of this, which is why I put a lot of time and effort into the Cross Strap Spongy Face Mask Sealer and encourage others to make and sell them on their own.

The more we can get word around on the importance of quality face masks, and get production ramped up, then the better off we will be. The sooner, the better.

If we try to reopen the economy without quality face mask protection and other measures, then it could be a disaster.

Please see other sections of this website for discussion of topics above in detail. This is just a summary.

For a directory of pages on this website, please see our SiteMap, where you might find some more things of interest.

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Parts of this website are derived from my pollution mask work in 2019.

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