Do Face Masks Really Protect Us Against COVID-19? Myths vs. Facts

GoodRx / Maryann Mikhail, MD

As of April 3, 2020 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone age 2 years and over wear a mask in public, especially if social distancing is not possible. This is based on growing research that shows that masks work to reduce the spread of COVID-19

COVID-19 cases are hitting record-breaking numbers every day in the United States. In some hotspots, hospitals are quickly becoming overwhelmed. The death rate is starting to climb. To stop the spread, we must all come together and put on our masks. We’ll walk through some myths — and facts — below.

Myth 1: I’m not sick, so I’m not a risk to others.

Even if you feel fine, you could be carrying COVID-19 and infect others. Many people with COVID-19 never get symptoms. For those who get sick, almost all have the infection well before they realize it. People who don’t have symptoms are more likely to go to work, travel, and interact with others. Unfortunately, these asymptomatic carriers carry just as much virus in their respiratory tracts. To make matters worse, people are most contagious at the beginning of their infections, before they feel sick.

A lot of people without symptoms are spreading COVID-19. In research out of China, 4 out of every 5 people who tested positive for COVID-19 didn’t realize they had it. Italian scientists found that 43% of an infected population were asymptomatic. In Washington state, over half of COVID-19 positive residents at a nursing home did not have any symptoms. 

There is evidence that people with COVID-19 can spread the virus by talking and breathing, not just coughing or sneezing. Scientists in the United States found the virus can survive in the air for at least 3 hours. This means that poorly ventilated indoor gatherings with asymptomatic people might be the perfect way to spread COVID-19.

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