April 12, 2020

COVID-19: How Effective Are Face Masks?

Ever since the outbreak of COVID-19, the use of face masks has become common in China and other Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan. Generally, countries and health authorities follow specific criteria in terms of the use of face masks.

What does the WHO say?

  • If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.
  • For up to date information, visit WHO website

While recommendations on face masks may vary across countries, what is observed is that we see growing demand for masks, and the use of masks increases substantially once local/community spread begins.

Update from CDC USA:

On April 3, 2020, Centers for Disease Control in the US has updated its recommendation regarding the use of cloth face coverings, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

CDC continues to study the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus across the United States.  We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.  This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.  In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Visit CDC for more details.

People across Asia have long worn face masks to avoid picking up infections and due to the COVID-19 crisis, other countries are now discussing whether the practice should be enforced in a bid to slow the spread of the disease. Germany is one of those countries and its Bundesinstituts für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte (Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices) released information regarding protection levels afforded by different masks. This infographic provides an overview of its findings.

Which countries have made wearing face masks mandatory?

Most recently, Germany has become the latest European country to make the wearing of face masks compulsory when on public transport and while shopping in all of its 16 states.

Besides Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Morocco, Turkey, Poland, Jamaica are other countries where wearing masks has been made mandatory. In the US, seven states have made face masks mandatory, these states are Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

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