Update, Nov. 11: In a scientific brief published on Nov. 10, the CDC acknowledged that masks not only protect those around you from getting COVID-19 if you are in fact infected, but that they also protect the wearers because of filtration. Masks, the agency says, help reduce inhalation of virus-containing droplets, "including filtration of fine droplets and particles less than 10 microns." The filtration capabilities of masks are increased when there are multiple layers of cloth with higher thread counts as opposed to single-layered cloth masks, the CDC states, adding that some materials such as polypropylene may enhance filtration. Further research, the agency noted, is needed to expand evidence and pinpoint the best materials for both blocking and filtration of viral particles.
These statements by the CDC only further make a case for universal masking. The statements are also good for public health messaging. "We don't have people yet who are completely convinced about the benefits of masking until they see the CDC say that it also protects you and your family," Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, told The New York Times. "I would encourage every American to adhere to masking guidelines now that we hear more clearly today that this will protect you and others."
Original post, July 28: Experts have been recommending face masks as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus; the wearer of the face mask can protect people around them because the mask blocks respiratory droplets, which have been identified as a main means of COVID-19 transmission. But could wearing a face mask also protect the wearer? It's a possibility, according to a new paper from researchers at the University of California — San Francisco and John Hopkins, which will be published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
The paper draws on "virologic, epidemiologic, and ecologic evidence" to make the argument that wearing a face mask could result in a lower "viral dose," or amount of coronavirus particles, taken in by a wearer exposed to the virus. And according to several studies cited by the researchers, a lower viral dose can lead to less severe symptoms, or even no symptoms at all, of a given illness, including COVID-19.
One cited study, published in May, tested this with the coronavirus and hamsters. Researchers in China set up cages of hamsters, some infected with the coronavirus and others healthy, and separated the two groups with partitions of surgical masks in some of the cages. In citing this study, the UCSF and Johns Hopkins scientists noted that the healthy hamsters were "less likely to contract SARS-CoV-2 infection with a surgical mask partition," and those that did had a milder infection compared to their "non-masked" peers.
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