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Do masks protect from coronavirus?

How do we know whether masks work to prevent transmission of coronavirus?

With so much information being shared on social media and other platforms, it can often feel difficult to find reliable sources. Most scientific evidence is in support of using face masks to reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. For more information on selecting a mask, the correct way to wear a mask, and updates on recommendations for masking to prevent the spread of COVID-19, visit this webpage from the CDC.

We have compiled a list of some (but not all) scientific papers published since 2020 on the benefits of mask use.

Why are scientific papers different from other sources of information?

Scientists must adhere to strict standards to demonstrate evidence. Their scientific papers are reviewed by other scientists, who look for faults, problems with clarity or reasoning, and other criticisms before the scientific papers can be published publicly. This peer review process often (although not always) identifies and prevents papers that are low quality or unreliable from being made public. This rigorous process of peer review makes it much more difficult to publish evidence in a scientific journal than it is on any other platform, such as social media. 

Narrative summary of the evidence – with links to peer-reviewed research and articles

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is spread primarily through the air, and masks can reduce the spread of the virus.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is primarily spread through the air in respiratory droplets. Masks reduce the spread of respiratory droplets from exhalation and coughing. Many types of masks can reduce the spread of respiratory droplets, but some are better at reducing the spread than others. tAs a result of the evidence that masks can reduce the spread of respiratory droplets and may help reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2, many states have mandated mask use to reduce the amount of virus that people spread when they are near each other. There is no single solution for preventing the spread of the virus causing COVID-19, but a combination of policy measures including focused lockdown periods, combined with mask use, have the potential to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission to levels that allow for safe reopening.

Face masks are part of a comprehensive public health approach to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

When combined, face mask use, hand hygiene (washing hands), and social distancing can work together to reduce coronavirus transmission. Increasing use of face masks and improving hand hygiene also help reduce the spread of other respiratory viruses, like the flu.

Face masks protect against asymptomatic spread.

Some people do not show symptoms of COVID-19 even though they are infected with the virus and can spread it to others (sources from Nature, NEJM, JAMMI). This means that seemingly healthy people can contribute to the spread of the virus. Indeed, scientific evidence suggests pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic persons can play a major role in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. This is another reason to use extra caution and wear face masks around other people.

Scientific review articles with journal links

Systematic reviews and meta-analytic reviews synthesize the findings from many different studies on a specific topic. Therefore, they can often provide stronger evidence than any single study. Below are several review articles on the effects of face masks to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2.