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Published on July 01, 2020

COVID-19: How Much Protection Do Face Masks Provide?

Public health officials strongly encourage use of cloth face coverings to slow the spread of Novel Coronavirus. But how much of a difference do face coverings really make?

When combined with other preventive measures, like frequent hand-washing and social distancing, face coverings can help protect you and your family. “A cloth mask provides protection for everyone else from the person wearing the mask,” said Chanda Newsome, Wayne UNC Health Care Director of Infection Control.

The mask, added Newsome, isn’t filtering any particles the wearer is breathing in, but it is catching the larger droplets that are being expelled from the mask wearer’s nose and mouth. “This is why it’s so important for a mask to cover both our mouth and our nose at all times,” said Newsome.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact with one another. The use of a cloth face covering is especially important when people are close to one another or when social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Masks in the Healthcare Setting

At Wayne UNC Health Care, our team follows CDC guidelines for masks, requiring all patients, providers, teammates, visitors and vendors to keep covered throughout their time in the hospital.

“If a patient is in the room with their door closed, they do not have to wear a mask,” said Newsome. “If they are out in the hall or in other areas of the hospital, they have to wear a mask.”

The hospital provides new masks to teammates and providers daily and hospital-grade masks to all patients and visitors. Hospital-grade masks are loose-fitting disposable masks that protect the wearer’s nose and mouth from contact with droplets, splashes and sprays that may contain germs. These masks can filter out large particles in the air.

For teammates caring for patients on Wayne UNC COVID units, the hospital provides N-95 masks. N-95 masks can block 95% of very small particles, offering an additional layer of protection. Through responsible stewardship, Wayne UNC has adequate personal protective equipment for all teammates, patients and visitors.

Masks in Public Settings

For the general public, the CDC recommends a minimum of a cloth mask. The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads very easily and sustainably between people, said Newsome. “It can be spread by people who do not have symptoms and don’t know they are infected,” she added. “That’s why it’s important for everyone to practice social distancing and wear cloth face coverings in public settings.”

How to Wear a Cloth Face Mask

Cloth face masks are most effective when they are working properly. Here are a few pointers for putting on and taking off a cloth mask:

  • Place your mask over your mouth and nose.
  • Tie it behind your head or use ear loops and make sure it's snug.
  • Don't touch your mask while wearing it.
  • If you accidentally touch your mask, wash or sanitize your hands.
  • Remove the mask by untying it or lifting off the ear loops without touching the front of the mask or your face.
  • Wash your hands immediately after removing your mask.
  • Regularly wash your mask with soap and water in the washing machine. It's fine to launder it with other clothes.

Here are a few face mask precautions:

  • Don't put masks on anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help.
  • Don't put masks on children under 2 years of age.
  • Don't use face masks as a substitute for social distancing.

For more information on the importance of wearing a mask and mask etiquette, talk to your primary care provider or check out more answers to your questions about masks.

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