Does my mask protect me if no one else is wearing one?


A: Yes. A well-fitting, high- quality mask worn correctly decreases your risk of catching COVID-19 even if no one else is wearing one.

Mask mandates are no longer being enforced in many public spaces. Masks work best at decreasing the spread of viruses when everyone is wearing them. When that’s not the case, your mask works well to decrease your risk. You get the best protection from a well fitting N95 or KN95 mask that seals well on your face and remains in place.

The amount of protection from COVID-19 a mask provides the wearer depends on many factors. Studies suggest properly wearing an N95 mask can decrease your risk of infection from 50% to 90%. Many studies are done in simulation labs which do not account for “people problems”, such as the need to take a drink of water or a poorly fitted seal over the nose or cheek. An N95 mask will REDUCE RISK, but it will not eliminate risk. We do many things in life that decrease but do not eliminate risk including wearing a helmet, putting on sunscreen, and using life jackets. Masks are a similar tool. It is also helpful to layer on the protection. Masking + avoiding crowded indoor settings + staying up to date on vaccinations gives you the best shot at avoiding infection and preventing serious complications.

To get the most protection from your mask, wear an N95 or KN95 mask that fits well. A well-fitting mask has no gaps at the sides, nose, or under your chin. You want your mask to fit close to your face and seal around the nose. N95 and KN95 masks come in many shapes and sizes. It’s worth trying a few different versions to find the one you like best. If an N95 or KN95 is not an option, maximize the layers and seal of your mask. This could include adding a filter, adjusting ear loops, or wearing 2 masks.

Remember, masks work when they are covering your nose and your mouth. If you take off your mask to take a drink or eat or talk, the mask is no longer filtering the air you are breathing. Do your best to put it on and leave the mask in place until you are in a less risky setting such as outside or away from other people. Your decision to mask may vary from situation to situation. Go all in when you decide to mask with a quality mask worn consistently for the best protection.

Additional Resources:

Summary of mask effectiveness studies in the New York Times

One-way masking piece by NPR Goats and Soda

University of Tokyo study examining mask efficacy

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