Do face masks prevent COVID-19?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a mask in public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
As cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continue to spread, many families are looking for the best ways to stay healthy. One way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a mask over your nose and mouth when around others in public.
Learn how masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and see more ways to keep your family safe.
How do face masks protect against the spread of COVID-19?
COVID-19 spreads from person-to-person, meaning that it can spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks in close contact with another person. To help prevent this spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a face mask to cover your nose and mouth when around others in the community.
"The main purpose of using a mask is what we call source control," says Carla Garcia Carreno, M.D., Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist at Children's Health℠. "This means that the person who is wearing a mask will prevent spreading respiratory particles into the air and to other people."
Wearing a face mask is an additional step that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. It's important to still take other precautions, including social distancing, even when wearing a mask.
"Wearing a mask is a small simple ask, but it can help saves lives," says Jeffrey Kahn, M.D., Director of Infectious Disease at Children's Health and Professor at UT Southwestern. "One of the big challenges of COVID-19 is that individuals can shed infectious virus before they become symptomatic and some infected individuals may never become symptomatic. Asymptomatic infection is especially common in children, and having your child wear a mask will potentially protect individuals that come in contact with your child."
Who should wear a face mask – and when?
The CDC recommends that all people wear a face mask when in public – except for children younger than 2 years old. Children under the age of 2 should not wear a face mask to avoid risk of suffocation. In addition, do not place a mask on anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious or cannot remove the mask without help.
Wear a face mask in public places where social distancing is more challenging, such as grocery stores or when running other necessary errands. Continue to keep at least 6 feet between yourself and others to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
When wearing a mask, make sure it:
- completely covers your nose and mouth
- fits snugly on your face and is secured
- includes multiple layers of fabric
- is breathable
- can be washed and machine dried without changing shapes
When removing your mask, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and wash your hands immediately after removal. You should also routinely wash your face mask after use.
Where can I find a face mask?
Face masks are widely available in some stores and online. The CDC has information on the types of masks you can use to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, such as cloth and disposable masks. The CDC does not recommend the use of N95 respirators by the general public or outside of health care settings. See more information about types of masks and choosing one that works for you.
What are other ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
The best way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid exposure to the virus. Even if wearing a cloth face covering in public, make sure your family is practicing these everyday precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- Practice proper hand hygiene (see tips for hand washing)
- Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Put distance between yourself and other people (see tips for social distancing with kids)
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throw away tissue in trash after sneezing
- Disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces daily with a household cleaning spray or wipe
- Stay home if you are sick
COVID-19 vaccines are also now available to prevent the spread of the virus, but they are not yet approved for children. The CDC recommends vaccinated persons still wear a mask in public. Taking these precautions are a critical step in preventing the spread of COVID-19, especially as new variants spread.
Learn more about COVID-19
Children's Health is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family during this time. See tips to help your child adjust to wearing a face mask and more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID-19 hub.
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