If You're Not Doing This, Your Mask Won't Protect You, Study Says

Without taking this other precaution, wearing your mask may not prevent COVID.

Wearing a mask is one of the simplest and most essential steps you can take to protect yourself and help stop the spread of COVID. However, a recent study concluded that just wearing a mask—that is, without adhering to other key precautions—may not actually help protect you. The study, published in Physics of Fluids on Dec. 22, found that wearing a mask without social distancing is likely not enough to prevent COVID from spreading. To see why a mask alone isn't enough, read on, and for more on the future of mask-wearing, Dr. Fauci Says This Is When You'll Be Able to Throw Away Your Face Mask.

The study set out to decipher whether face masks are able to provide protection from airborne sneeze and cough droplets when people are close together in face-to-face interactions. Researchers used a machine to simulate coughs and sneezes against five different types of masks, including an N95 mask, a surgical mask, a two-layer cloth mask, a regular cloth, and a wet two-layer cloth mask. They found that face masks aren't always effective in protecting people from COVID when they're not at least six feet apart.

"If the relevant social distancing guidelines are compromised, the study shows that foreign airborne sneeze and cough droplets could pass through all the masks tested (except for the N-95 mask) even when assuming a 100 percent snug fit," the study reads. While the masks dramatically reduced the number of droplets spread, enough droplets made it through the material to potentially cause illness when the distance was less than six feet.

"A mask definitely helps, but if the people are very close to each other, there is still a chance of spreading or contracting the virus," study author Krishna Kota, PhD, said in a statement. "It's not just masks that will help. It's both the masks and distancing."

Of course, there are some masks that are better than others in protecting you from coronavirus. Keep reading for four face coverings to avoid, and for a precaution we can ditch, Dr. Fauci Advises Against This One COVID Safety Measure.

Used masks

A young woman wearing a face mask outdoors while holding a yoga mat.

We've all been guilty of reusing our masks a few times too many, but a recent study found that this action could be dangerous. The study, published on Dec. 15 in the Physics of Fluids, concluded that wearing a used or worn-out mask could be worse than not wearing any mask in some cases.

According to the research, a new three-layer surgical mask is 65 percent efficient in filtering particles. However, if the mask is worn out, that drops to just 25 percent. Additionally, researchers found that worn-out masks led wearers to inhale more particles than those without a mask inhaled. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Face shields

Construction worker wearing a face shield without a mask

Face shields may seem like a great alternative to face masks, but the World Health Organization (WHO) warns against using them. In a Dec. 1 update, the WHO pointed out that wearing a face shield without a mask wouldn't block the wearer's droplets from infecting others, or prevent other people's droplets from infecting them. And for the latest coronavirus news, Dr. Fauci Just Gave a Warning About the New COVID Strain in the U.S.

Masks with valves

Girl wearing a face mask with a valve in it

While face masks with valves may make for a more comfortable experience, they're virtually useless. Research from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on Nov. 10 found that face masks with ventilation valves don't stop the spread of COVID. According to the study, droplets were able to move almost as far and as quickly through a mask with a valve as they were with no face covering at all. And for more on the current state of coronavirus spread, This Is How Bad the COVID Outbreak Is in Your State.

Masks without three layers

woman with face mask looking out the window on a bus

The latest evidence indicates that a mask needs to have three separate layers in order to keep you safe from coronavirus. A November study from Virginia Tech that tested 11 different face masks confirmed that those with three layers offered the most protection from COVID. And for another type of face covering to avoid, The FDA Just Issued a Warning Against This Kind of Face Mask.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
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