Many countries worldwide recommend that people wear masks in public as part of their strategy to curb the pandemic. We look at why some people do not wear masks and discuss what scientific evidence says about wearing them.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists and other experts have debated whether the general public should wear face masks and whether these masks should be medical grade masks or homemade face coverings.

The World Health Organization (WHO) long shied away from such recommendations, maintaining that only healthcare professionals, currently have the new coronavirus, and those caring from them at home wear medical grade masks.

Masks offer no protection to the wearer
Claims: Cotton face mask for sale are not an effective way of protection from the new coronavirus, only N95 are, and masks have disclaimers saying they cannot prevent someone from acquiring the new coronavirus.

These claims represent the essence of the argument around whether to wear a mask. The primary aim of asking the general public to wear masks where physical distancing is impossible is not to protect the wearer.

Instead, this public health measure aims to stop people with a SARS-CoV-2 infection who are asymptomatic or presymptomatic from transmitting the virus. Experts refer to this as source control.

Rather than protecting the wearer, source control seeks to block the release of virus-laden droplets into the air that surrounds the person wearing the face mask with filter.

Several research papers have shown that simple face coverings can reduce the number of droplets, and perhaps some aerosols, to some extent.

Evidence is lacking
Claim: There is no scientific evidence to say that a washable face mask is effective

Prof. Trisha Greenhalgh from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom has voiced her support about using face masks in several prominent research journals,

R0 is the technical term for the necessary reproduction number, which refers to the number of other people to whom a single person can transmit infection.

When the R0 is below 1, each person with SARS-CoV-2 will transmit the virus to less than one other person, reducing the overall number of cases in the population over time.

Masks may increase the risk of infection.
Claim: Face mask for kids can become contaminated very quickly, and every time the wearer breathes in, they inhale contaminants
Masks can be a source of infection for the person wearing them, according to the WHO.

A 2017 study involving 16 healthcare professionals showed that self-contamination was expected when the volunteers put on and removed medical-grade personal protective equipment.

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The CDC recommends that people do not touch their face covering while wearing a face mask in public and wash their hands if they do so accidentally.