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Do masks work?

From the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been told that masks were the best protection against Covid-19, and the best way to stop it from spreading, until vaccines became available. Yet there are plenty of people who claim masks are useless. Who’s right?

The medical community has been solidly behind masking. Covid-19 is transmitted from infected individuals to other people by aerosol droplets in the air. Research indicates “the virus tends to first infect the nasal cavity where it finds cells it likes for replicating. Then, in some cases, it travels further into the respiratory track where it does not replicate quite so easily but can still infect the lungs, leading to potentially fatal pneumonia” (see story here).

That’s why Covid-19 testing uses nasal swabs to detect the presence of the virus, and is why face coverings are a key strategy for blocking transmission. A recent Mayo Clinic study “strongly support[s] the protective value and effectiveness of widespread mask use (press release here; study abstract here).

A review of dozens of studies worldwide published in The Lancet, a highly respected peer-reviewed medical journal, supports the conclusion that “mask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection,” especially combined with distancing, while noting that N95 masks are more effective than standard surgical masks (see article here), which already was common knowledge.

What about practical experience? If masks work, you’d expect to see lower infection rates in places where more people use them, and that’s what researchers discovered. A Boston University study found “a direct correlation between greater adherence to face masks and lower COVID-19 rates among U.S. states” (story here; study here).

Finally, it’s just not plausible that the vast majority of the medical community is solidly behind masking if it’s not effective, or that mask policies are a sinister government plot to take away your freedom. Use common sense here.

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