Here's How Effective Your Face Mask Really Is at Protecting You

A recent study finds that if you want to stay safe, you really shouldn't be leaving home without one.

Research has shown that coronavirus is often spread through particles in the air. This is one of the biggest reasons why wearing a face mask has been a recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since the early days of the pandemic. But exactly how much safer are you when following this guideline? According to a recent study from McMaster University in Canada, your risk of transmitting COVID-19 without a face mask is 17.4 percent, while wearing one brings that probability all the way down to just 3.1 percent.

The groundbreaking study used data from 25,000 patients in 16 countries on six continents to formulate its results. While the findings are not much of a surprise to scientists who have long speculated that face coverings are highly effective in combating the spread of coronavirus, study co-author, Derek Chu, said they did clear up some lingering "uncertainty."

And it's not only the act of wearing face masks that the study found to be a useful safety measure. Researchers also determined that "physical distancing is highly effective, and every inch counts," Chu told Today.

Just how much of an impact does social distancing make? Researchers found that the risk of transmission between people three feet apart without face masks was 12.8 percent, but dropped to 2.6 percent when that distance increased, with authors identifying seven feet as the ideal spacing. Interestingly, the study also found a 16 percent transmission risk for anyone not wearing protective eye covering, which dropped significantly to 5.5 percent for those donning goggles or a face shield.

"Having that barrier would help prevent our hands touching our eyes, and it's also a barrier against the virus," Chu said.

Still, the authors of the study stress the effectiveness of handwashing and explained that "no single intervention on its own made an individual completely impervious to transmission." Just remember this the next time you leave the house wondering whether or not following the guidelines is worth it. And for information on what you shouldn't cover your face with, check out why States Are Banning This One Type of Face Mask.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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