The health agency confirmed that masks not only stop a person from spreading COVID-19 to others, but also protect the wearer.

By Julie Mazziotta
November 12, 2020
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Credit: AleksandarGeorgiev / Getty Images

Wearing a mask not only prevents a person from potentially spreading COVID-19 to others, but it also protects the wearer from taking in the virus, the Centers for Disease Control said in a new guidance.

When the federal health agency initially advised all Americans to start wearing masks in early April, its intention was to stop people from spreading COVID-19 to others. Because COVID-19 is highly contagious and up to 50 percent of cases can be asymptomatic, a significant amount of community spread was happening from people breathing out virus particles through their mouths and noses.

While the CDC hoped that masks would also protect the wearer from getting the virus, they were not sure if non-medical ones, like those made out of cotton fabrics, would be effective. But now, after analyzing several studies on non-medical masks, the CDC has confirmed that they protect people from getting COVID-19, particularly those with several layers of fabric.

"Studies demonstrate that cloth mask materials can also reduce wearers' exposure to infectious droplets through filtration, including filtration of fine droplets and particles less than 10 microns," the CDC said, adding that masks with multiple layers of high-thread count fabric were most effective.

The CDC highlighted two mask fabrics in particular—polypropylene, which blue surgical masks and many filter inserts are made out of, and silk masks. The polypropylene ones create a form of static electricity that can grab virus particles, and silk masks can "repel moist droplets."

Wearing masks benefit everyone, the CDC said, and "adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns."

"The prevention benefit of masking is derived from the combination of source control and personal protection for the mask wearer," the CDC said. "The relationship between source control and personal protection is likely complementary and possibly synergistic, so that individual benefit increases with increasing community mask use."

Currently, about half of the U.S. requires people to wear masks in public spaces and enforces some kind mask mandate. President Donald Trump has resisted instituting a nationwide mask mandate and often mocked people who wear masks, including President-elect Joe Biden, despite research showing that a mandate could save 130,000 American lives through the winter season. As Biden prepares for his presidency, he urged all Americans to wear masks.

"Please, I implore you, wear a mask, do it for yourself, do it for your neighbor," he said Monday, during a meeting to establish his coronavirus task force. "A mask is not a political statement, but it is a good way to start pulling the country together."

The U.S. is currently struggling with the largest wave of COVID-19 cases of the entire pandemic. On Tuesday, the country set another record for new infections in one day with 139,855, and hospitalizations are at the highest point yet. As of Wednesday morning, more than 10,331,900 Americans have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 240,241 people have died from the virus, according to The New York Times.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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