Face masks study shows why social distancing is so important

Face masks may be an important protective step toward reducing the spread of COVID-19, but they alone aren't enough. That's according to a new study published by the American Institute of Physics, which found that being at a close distance to someone who is infected may put you at risk even if you're both wearing face masks.

Face masks, when fitted properly and particularly when made from ideal material, can reduce the spread of tiny droplets that may carry the virus. The new study evaluated masks made from five different varieties of materials and how well each works to block the droplets during coughing and sneezing.

While all of the materials were found to 'dramatically' reduce how many droplets spread, they weren't enough to protect people who were within 6ft of the subject. The researchers note that the spread of droplets while wearing a mask was significant enough within those few feet that someone could still potentially become sick.

The findings were based on the use of a machine that was designed to mimic human sneezing and coughing. The different mask materials were the ones you're likely to encounter yourself, including a surgical mask, two-layer cloth, 'regular cloth mask,' and an N95 mask.

At most, the masks allowed around 3.6-percent of the droplets to pass through — and that, the researchers note, may still be enough to spread or contract the disease at a close distance. The findings underscore the need to wear a mask and to keep a distance from other people.