Cloth masks are not perfect.
They come in all different shapes, colors and patterns of varying degrees of comfortability and breathability. They hurt ears, pinch noses, mess up hair and fog up glasses, but that doesn’t mean you should not wear one.
“Some people mistakenly believe that masks are purely a personal choice,” said Tom Locke, Jefferson County’s public health officer.
“This is a dangerously mistaken and self-centered belief,” Locke said. “The main function of the mask is to protect other people from you, not to protect you from other people.”
A cloth mask does not guarantee protection from transmission of COVID-19, but a growing body of research about how COVID-19 droplets spread suggests it might have some effectiveness. An asymptomatic person wearing a cloth mask might be less likely to spread the virus to others.
While COVID-19 is still being studied, it is believed the virus mainly spreads through invisible droplets projected when a person breathes, coughs, sneezes or talks. Each action — breathing, sneezing or coughing — sends droplets flying at various speeds, distances and quantities.
While wearing a mask, current evidence suggests the quantity and distance of the spread of those droplets is reduced.
Any virus particles caught in the mask will not hang in the air waiting to be picked up.
But slow or alternating messaging from different organizations has led to confusion and national and local debate about the effectiveness of masks and their use as a personal choice. In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Surgeon General both discouraged the use of masks among the general public, but have since reversed course and now recommend cloth or homemade masks. Many municipalities and states have directed their citizens to use a mask daily while in public places.
Data from countries including Japan, South Korea and China suggest widespread mask usage might have reduced the spread of the virus compared to other countries.
But masks are not the only line of defense. The recommended 6-foot buffer for social distancing is also designed with the droplets and their spread in mind. Regular handwashing and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth are also highly important to reducing the transmission of the coronavirus.