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IN-DEPTH: How effective are face masks at stopping the spread of COVID-19?


Health officials, government officials and the public have debated how effective face coverings are against COVID-19 since the pandemic started.

ABC 17'S Brittany Wiley took an in-depth look at the science behind how they work.

She sat at her dining room table with a standard pillar candle, a surgical mask, factory-made cloth mask and homemade cloth mask.

Without a face covering, the candle was easily blown out. Once face coverings got involved, not only did her expiration get more forceful, but the flame didn't move.

Dr. Robin Blount, chief medical officer with Boone Hospital Center, said the demonstration showed how the mask acts as a barrier.

“It's really just a barrier to the airflow in your candle demonstration. When we're really talking about the potential spread of the virus we're talking about a barrier to droplets," Blount said.

Blount said when someone coughs or sneezes, droplets carrying viruses can't travel very far because they get caught in the mask.

“If everyone were to wear a mask, our chances of transmission are markedly diminished," Blount said.

A CDC news release detailed the efficiency of face coverings at a Springfield, Mo. hair salon after two employees tested positive for the virus.

Investigators found that none of the stylists’ 139 clients or secondary contacts contracted coronavirus and all 67 clients who volunteered to be tested showed no sign of infection because the salon had a mask policy.

Blount said any face-covering makes a difference in preventing the spread of novel coronavirus, but there are some benefits and drawbacks to the different types.

“The standard hospital isolation mask is better constructed to protect against these things than a standard cloth mask, but a cloth mask for run of the mill interactions in a hallway or in a grocery store is absolutely fine," she said.

“But you're starting to see people with these valved face masks and that will allow things to go in and out," she said. "I think kind of a false comfort to people that are wearing those because they are not as safe really as a good, solid mask.”

At the start of the pandemic, health officials said masks were only necessary for anyone with the virus or who was caring for someone with the COVID-19.

Blount said it's common for ideas like that to change as officials get more experience with viruses.

“Sometimes what was once said might be a good idea or not necessary, as we do more tests, as we do more experiments, as we get more experience with the virus, we move forward we learn from that."

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Brittany Wiley

Brittany Wiley joined ABC 17 News in December 2018 as a full-time reporter. She anchors weekend morning broadcasts and reports in the early evening during the week.


1 Comment

  1. “If everyone were to wear a mask, our chances of transmission are markedly diminished,” Blount said.”

    And if everyone stayed completely out of contact with anyone, there would be no transmission at all. Of course survival would otherwise be even more difficult. We have long past the point where the edicts are more harmful than the virus. The ongoing destruction of the economy that feeds us, and the psychological effects of isolation, are far more dangerous than Covid-19 is. Masking is a major aspect of that isolation. As much as 55% of human communication is by facial expression and body language. Masks prevent communication by facial expression. We see others as a “threat” instead of fellow human beings. This fiasco would be long gone if we had simply treated it like we do influenza. Which so happens to be only slightly less dangerous, even with the wildly erratic and exaggerated statistics put forth by “experts” regarding Covid-19. We escape influenza by herd immunity, and the typical weakening of a virus as it ages. Which is exactly what Covid-19 would do if we treated it the same as influenza. There is an agenda in play, and it has not the slightest thing to do with your health.

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