While wearing a face mask can potentially contain and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, experts say it doesn’t replace the golden rule of six-foot social distancing.
Masks are not 100% effective in trapping the tiny droplets that may contain contagious pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, so the farther you are away from a potentially infected person, the better.
“People have this perception that because they have a mask on, droplets can’t travel through the mask, but they can,” Dr. Shanina Knighton, Ph.D., RN, told Well + Good. “The fact that you can breathe through it tells you something can come in through that barrier, and COVID-19 droplets are small enough that they would still be able to travel through the mask.”
Studies have been done measuring the effectiveness of different materials in blocking the transmission of the virus. Researchers at Florida Atlantic University found that stitch-quilted do-it-yourself face masks were superior to bandanas, cone masks and masks made from other materials, but even they were not 100% effective.
While Dr. Knighton said that the six-foot rule suggests that that’s how far droplets can travel from a person’s mouth or nose if they cough or sneeze, new research has shown that even with a slight breeze, those tiny droplets can travel 18 feet in five seconds. However, wearing a face mask AND keeping your distance can help reduce your risk of infection.
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