Wearing a mask or other face covering in shops, supermarkets and public transport has become commonplace. With the UK heading back into lockdown and other countries experiencing a rejuvenated "second wave" of the virus, many people have become lax or fed up of the masks and social distancing procedures.
But remaining vigilant is important, and here's why: we break down the science behind wearing a mask, how it limits the spread of coronavirus, and the best places to buy a new reusable face covering.
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Masks aren't really there to protect yourself: rather, they're very effective at preventing the spread of coronavirus when being worn by an infected individual, which is why the infection rate drops so rapidly when everyone complies and masks up.
Coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets, which are projected outwards through speaking, coughing or sneezing. An experiment from the New England Journal of Medicine (opens in new tab) sought to check how many droplets are actually spread via speech, both with and without a mask.
The researchers used laser-mapping technology to highlight the spread of droplets. In the video below, you see the bright green splatters of droplets spread during normal speaking, then you see the same phrase being spoken while a mask.
In this experiment, investigators used a laser in a darkened box to visualize approximately 300 droplets that were generated during speech. #COVID19 #SARSCoV2 pic.twitter.com/bLaX9ORDT9April 23, 2020
Note how fewer droplets there are when the mask is worn. When both participants in a conversation are wearing masks, the chance of infection is greatly reduced because droplets aren't spreading from either participant. Wouldn't you want anyone chatting to you to prevent potentially harmful droplets from landing on you?
One study published in PNAS: The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (opens in new tab) of the USA showed mask-wearing alone significantly lowered the number of infections by over 78,000 in Italy. The evidence is clear: masks help reduce the rate of infection.
Until a coronavirus vaccine is readily available, it's time to mask up.
However, although masks are now compulsory wearing in shops and supermarkets in the UK, they're not mandatory in pubs and gyms, where the risk of infection is arguably greater. The science behind this is unclear.
Where to find masks (US):
- Get your reusable mask at Amazon (opens in new tab)
- Reusuable mask at Target (opens in new tab)
- PKG mask with travel case at Best Buy (opens in new tab)
Where to find masks (UK)
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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