Why Do We Need To Wear Masks?

With Toronto and much of the rest of Canada facing a new set of lockdowns, uncertain and worry about the COVID-19 Pandemic is at an all-time high. What is striking is that despite the fact that we’re essentially going for a second turn on this wild ride, there is still a lot of misinformation, or lack of information, regarding the best practices. Regardless, social distancing, handwashing, and especially wearing masks are all the best ways to limit transmission of COVID. But why are masks such an important part of this process?

To understand this, it’s important to understand how this disease is transmitted. COVID is one of many diseases that spreads through “respiratory droplets” – essentially, through the minute particles of moisture that you expel when you talk, cough and breathe. Often these are too small to notice, but the smaller the droplets, the more dangerous they can be. Larger droplets fall to the ground or nearby surfaces, but small droplets “aerosolize”. (This is the same idea beyond how aerosol cans work). These small droplets can travel a surprising distance, being a danger to people within 2m and getting on all surfaces in that area as well. The exact level of transmission from surfaces is still unclear but breathing in those particles is a sure-fire way to catch COVID. 

Controlling this spread of particles is the real reason that masks are so important. They do serve an important role in helping you prevent catching COVID, by protecting your nose and mouth, where these particles are most likely to get into your body. However, masks also serve as the first line of defense against these particles getting out of your mouth and nose and ending up on other people or on surfaces. Even if you don’t know you are infected with COVID, in such uncertain times, it is a basic courtesy to try and keep your potentially dangerous particles to yourself. And there is no better way to do this than a mask. 

You should be aware of what the capabilities of your mask are, however. Some of the most convenient are cloth masks, which actually trap and absorb those droplets. This does mean, however, that your mask could be turned into an unwitting incubator of the virus, so it’s a good idea to clean it frequently, just like you would clean your hands.