Do masks protect the people wearing them or the people around them?
“I think there’s enough evidence to say that the best benefit is for people who have COVID-19 to protect them from giving COVID-19 to other people, but you’re still going to get a benefit from wearing a mask if you don’t have COVID-19,” said Chin-Hong.
Masks may be more effective as a “source control” because they can prevent larger expelled droplets from evaporating into smaller droplets that can travel farther.
Another factor to remember, noted Rutherford, is that you could still catch the virus through the membranes in your eyes, a risk that masking does not eliminate.
How many people need to wear masks to reduce community transmission?
“What you want is 100 percent of people to wear masks, but you’ll settle for 80 percent,” said Rutherford. In one simulation, researchers predicted that 80 percent of the population wearing masks would do more to reduce COVID-19 spread than a strict lockdown.
The latest forecast from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation suggests that 33,000 deaths could be avoided by October 1 if 95 percent of people wore masks in public.
Even if you live in a community where few people wear masks, you would still reduce your own chances of catching the virus by wearing one, said Chin-Hong and Rutherford.