Study finds face masks 'critical' for individual COVID-19 protection

If you've been refusing to wear a face mask in public, now is the time to start. A new study out of Texas A&M University has found that failing to wear a face mask puts a person at dramatic risk of contracting the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — and it also increases their odds of spreading it to other people. Face masks alone aren't enough to prevent the virus, but they are an important tool.

In some countries, including the US, wearing face masks while in public is controversial — a combination of misinformation and general stubbornness has fueled a backlash against mask recommendations, resulting in many people who are visiting stores and generally being close to strangers without this form of protection.

According to the study out of A&M, the use of face masks in New York, Italy, and China prevented tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases in only a few weeks. Respiratory aerosol particles are named the 'dominant' way that the novel coronavirus spreads and face masks were shown as effective for protecting against this on an individual person-to-person level.

Of course, social distancing and other practices, like frequently sanitizing one's hands and avoiding touching one's face, are also important and necessary for helping protect against the virus. Ultimately, though, face masks are described as a cheap and highly effective way to protect someone at the individual level.

Study co-author Professor Mario Molina of the University of California-San Diego said:

Our study establishes very clearly that using a face mask is not only useful to prevent infected coughing droplets from reaching uninfected persons, but is also crucial for these uninfected persons to avoid breathing the minute atmospheric particles (aerosols) that infected people emit when talking and that can remain in the atmosphere tens of minutes and can travel tens of feet.