Here's the One Thing That Makes Your Face Mask Less Safe

Masks help stop the spread of COVID-19, but doing this while wearing one creates some risk.

A growing number of studies have shown that face masks are extremely effective when it comes to controlling the spread of coronavirus. That's why health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have urged Americans to wear face coverings whenever they're out in public. But what if your PPE is creating a potential infection risk? Researchers have found that while masks certainly do help control the spread of COVID-19, repeatedly coughing into your mask can make them less safe.

A new study, conducted by researchers from the University of Nicosia in Cyprus, used computer models to show how far droplets could be expelled from masks while coughing. During even mild coughing fits, droplets were able to make it as far as three feet. Researchers say that's due to the air pressure that builds up inside the mask between coughs.

"Although masks will reduce the droplet transmission, we should not ignore that several droplets will be transmitted away from the mask," the researchers wrote. "[They] will not provide complete prevention from airborne droplet transmission. Therefore, social distancing remains essential when facing an evolving pandemic."

older asian man wearing face mask and coughing

The study authors noted that the droplets that traveled furthest were smaller in size compared to those coming from an unmasked person, as reported by the Miami Herald. But there's still no scientific consensus as to whether or not the size of the droplets makes them less infectious.

The researchers point out that wearing a mask is, of course, still doing more than going out without facial protection. Face coverings both slow down and shorten the distance viral particles can travel, the researchers said. "Without a mask, droplets travel twice as far," they noted.

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"We should do everything we can to slow the spread of the virus," Joseph Vinetz, MD, an infectious disease specialist, told Yale Medicine. "A mask should not give anyone a false sense of security. It doesn't give you a license to have social gatherings. It's just a way to help reduce whatever small amount of transmission could be going on in public."

So what's the solution? Of course, continuing to social distance, washing your hands frequently, and disposing of paper masks and washing cloth masks at the end of each day. And for more ways to get the most out of your face covering, check out This Amazing Simple Trick Can Make Your Face Mask Much Safer.

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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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