Should I Wear a Mask?

Key takeaways

  • My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.
  • Science, not politics. Masks work.
  • Yes, wear a mask in public.

Frequently asked questions

Can a cloth mask protect me from getting COVID-19?

A cloth mask does cut down your chances of getting the virus. It is much better at preventing you from spreading it.

So — If other people wear a mask, it protects you. If you wear a mask it protects others.

If you both wear masks, everyone is protected.

Are face masks enough on their own to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

They help A LOT. They work best when combined with a lot of hand-washing, staying at least 6-feet apart, and avoiding crowded indoor spaces.

At first we heard we shouldn’t wear masks. What changed?

Early on in the pandemic, scientists didn’t know how contagious people were before they had symptoms, and they were really worried about the mask shortage in hospitals.

Now we know that the virus is really contagious — even when people don’t have symptoms. We also know that masks help a lot.

The experts universally agree that wearing masks is important.

Will a cloth mask prevent me from spreading the virus to others?

Yes. It’s not perfect, but a cloth mask over your nose and mouth with no gaps does a pretty good job of preventing virus spread. Don’t forget — you can have COVID-19 without having any symptoms.

How do cloth masks work?

The virus spreads when people breathe in tiny water droplets or vapor from infected people. When you talk, shout, sing, cough, sneeze or breath you give off vapor and some droplets. If you have the virus, it goes with them.

A cloth mask will catch most of that vapor so that it can’t get to other people.

What’s the difference between a surgical mask, an N95 and a cloth mask?

N95 masks filter out 95% of particles. They use both fibers and a static charge. They catch virus particles before people breath them in. The problem is, we still have shortages of these masks, and we need to save them for people who are at the most risk, and where there are the highest amounts of virus: hospitals, clinics and testing centers.

Surgical masks are in between. They are good at preventing droplets and vapor from getting in or out. There is still a shortage of these masks for healthcare workers, however, so the general public should stick to cloth masks.

Unless you are high risk, use a cloth mask.

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Is there still a shortage of N95 masks?

As of June 26th, 2020 there is still a shortage of N95 masks. This will likely be the case until we have reliable production of more high quality N95 masks.

Is there still a shortage of surgical masks?

As of June 26th, 2020 there is still a shortage of surgical masks. This will likely be the case until we have reliable production of more high quality surgical masks.

Is wearing a mask a political statement?

No. Doctors and researchers are the people saying that we should use masks. Until we have other ways to prevent the spread, experts recommend everyone wear masks in public. Listen to the experts. Don’t worry about the politicians.

Does it violate my civil rights to be forced to wear a mask?

Does it violate your civil rights to be forced to wear a seatbelt? To keep your kid home from school if they have a fever? To have public pools closed during the polio outbreak? Laws give state and local governments a lot of room to make these decisions during a public health crisis.

Wearing a mask is a minor inconvenience that protects the people around you.

Can you get carbon dioxide poisoning from wearing a mask?

No. If you can blow out a candle from 12” away while wearing your mask, you’re fine. If not, get a mask with a lighter fabric. Carbon dioxide does not build up over time.

Are there people who should not wear masks?

According to the University of Maryland Medical System you should wear a mask- with very few exceptions. People who shouldn’t wear masks:

  • Children under two years old.
  • People with (real) breathing problems.
  • People who can’t remove the mask without assistance, such as those who are incapacitated or disabled.

People who cannot wear masks should avoid being out in public, and should remain at least 6 feet away from others.


If you’d like to fact check this piece or learn more about these topics, these are the references we used to put this explainer together.

Risk Bites (Youtube): How do Face Masks and Respirators Work? | Risk Bites | Andrew Maynard

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Use of Masks to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Considerations for Wearing Masks

Mayo Clinic: COVID-19: How much protection do face masks offer?

NPR: Why There Are So Many Different Guidelines For Face Masks For The Public

Stanford Medicine: 5 Questions: Stanford scientists on COVID-19 mask guidelines COVID-19 Face Mask Advice, Explained

University of Maryland Medical System: About Masks and Coronavirus

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: FAQs on Shortages of Surgical Masks and Gowns During the COVID-19 Pandemic