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Five common misconceptions about face masks

The overwhelming amount of information pertaining to COVID-19 is hard to digest and interpret, making it difficult to avoid misconceptions. Plant and Wildlife Sciences professor Ben Abbott and students Mitchell Greenhalgh, S. Isaac St. Clair, and Jonas Bush compiled and read over 115 studies on COVID-19 to make sense of the mask research. The team’s reflection of scientific evidence provides information on five common misconceptions about face masks.

Face Mask infographic
Photo by Audrey White and Dylan Smith

Misconception #1: Masks don’t work
Wearing a face mask protects you from spreading COVID-19, and there is growing evidence that it protects you from virus that others might shed. This virus is spread through small droplets of moisture that linger in the air after you talk, cough, sneeze, and even just breathe. Studies prove that wearing a mask captures and diffuses the droplets and aerosols carrying the virus, slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Misconception #2: Wearing a mask is the only precaution we need to take seriously
Steer clear of a false sense of security while wearing a mask. When children learn to ride a bike, they use training wheels, wear helmets, and have supervision because each safeguard provides different elements of protection. When avoiding COVID-19, it’s important to wear masks correctly, wash our hands, sanitize surfaces, wash masks frequently, and maintain distance from others. No method is perfect on its own, but when applied together, we can remain safe.

Misconception #3: All face coverings provide the same level of protection
All masks are not equal. Multi-layer synthetic or cotton masks and surgical masks provide filtration of droplets (source control). An N95 mask (known as a respirator) additionally filters out most particles from the outside, providing protection from others around you. Bandannas and neck gaiters provide minimal protection. The level of filtration on cloth masks depends on the fabric and fit.

Misconception #4: Wearing masks makes it difficult to breath
Wearing a mask may cause some discomfort, but it does not restrict breathing. Medical professionals have worn masks during full workdays for centuries, and people in Asia have practiced mask wearing to protect from illnesses and poor air quality for decades. There is no evidence of masks causing low oxygen levels or high carbon dioxide levels, and they have even been used as method of reducing exercise induced asthma. The only threat is the possibility of mild skin irritation and headaches.

Misconception #5: Only people who feel sick should wear masks
COVID-19 has a dangerously long incubation period that typically lasts five to fifteen days. Infected individuals who experience symptoms are the most contagious the day or two before the onset of symptoms. Additionally, one third of all COVID-19 carriers are asymptomatic, so it is not evident if you or someone around you is a carrier. Even if you feel fine, you may be a risk to the people around you.

Everyone must work together to protect each other in this peculiar pandemic. Do not let a common misconception fool you into risking your health and safety or that of those around you.

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