General Health

Face Masks Don’t Even Have to Work Especially Well to be Effective

July 15, 2020

Advice on whether or not to use face Tube Mask to limit the spread of the pandemic has varied from country to country, even differing by location within countries. These policies have had to balance whether there were sufficient supplies for medical personnel to divert some to the general public. And the whole issue was decided without a clear idea of whether face masks were actually effective against SARS-CoV-2.

But there has been reason to think masks would at least be somewhat effective, based on studies of the spread of droplets of material we expel while coughing or sneezing. And a recent analysis suggested a large group of individual studies collectively pointed to their effectiveness. But that analysis left a large degree of uncertainty about how effective they’d be at the population level and how face Custom Mask use would interact with other policy decisions.

Masks vs virus

Mask use actually has two different functions. To a degree, it limits the ability of people who are infected to put infectious particles into the environment. And to a potentially different degree, it limits access to two of the primary routes by which those particles can reach new hosts: the mouth and nose. It’s not a complete solution, as a person’s eyes are still uncovered, and the degree of effectiveness will vary based on how many potentially infectious particles are filtered out. Still, even a crude mask is likely to capture many of the largest particles we produce, and those are the ones that will carry the most viruses.

There’s also some uncertainty about the virus’s behavior. We don’t know how much of it is present in a typical droplet expelled by an infected person or how long the virus remains infectious once those particles make it to the environment. There’s also some residual uncertainty about when a person becomes infectious relative to the onset of symptoms. While some of these unanswered questions don’t alter the effectiveness of masks, they can influence how effective policies on mask use are. To get around these issues, the researchers decided to model a wide range of conditions, some in which the face masks were only slightly effective and others in which they blocked much of the spread of the virus. The authors even ran models in which wearing a face mask was assumed to increase the chances of someone becoming infected by causing people to bring their hands to their faces to adjust the mask’s fit.


To get at all these questions, the researchers relied on two different models. The first was something called a “branching process model” that got at the question of how effective a face mask had to be before it could influence the rate of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, based on how many people were wearing masks. They ran this model with two different base rates of interactivity and looked at how different levels of effectiveness and use changed those rates.