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Will a face mask protect me from COVID-19?

A man fits his facemask over his hears to protect himself from COVID-19

As we continue to monitor COVID-19 cases around Australia and within Queensland, local mask restrictions in South East Queensland are in place to keep the community safe.

If this virus is so crafty, what is a simple mask going to do?

Studies have proved the efficacy of face masks in slowing the spread of COVID-19. It’s more than a public health direction – it’s also one of our most effective weapons against this virus, especially the insidious Delta variant.

While the latest health direction means we must wear masks in public, circumstances nationally suggest masks may become a way of life for various periods in Queensland’s near future.

Read on as we outline key statistics and studies that show how wearing a mask protects you and your community from contracting COVID-19.

Masks work when everyone wears them

Every bit of protection helps.

There is an element of luck involved in whether or not someone gets infected, particularly with the Delta variant, which we know has been transmitted during fleeting contact.

If everyone wears a mask in public, the risk of getting COVID-19 is reduced.

The main purpose of mask-wearing is to protect others as well as yourself, by reducing the spread of COVID-19 droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking. When everyone wears a mask, the risk drops for all.

Research shows that wearing multilayer cloth masks can block up to 50-70% of exhaled fine droplets, particles and aerosols. Another study (cited in the same meta-study above) found that upwards of 80% of particles could be blocked by wearers of cloth masks, with cloth masks in some studies performing on par with surgical masks.

Regardless of your personal stance on masks or COVID-19, mask wearing is very important for keeping the whole community safe—particularly those at high risk of experiencing severe health complications should they contract the virus, the very young, the elderly, people who are very ill, or who have compromised immunity, such as chemotherapy or transplant patients.

A graphic that shows the relative risk of gettng COVID-19 in an interaction between two people with masks

Proven real-world effectiveness

Since the first COVID-19 outbreak in January 2020, many international studies have been conducted on the efficacy of mask-wearing. We've touched on three below, but you can read further on some of these studies here.

  • In early 2020, the United States Navy experienced a COVID-19 outbreak aboard an aircraft carrier with 382 service members aboard in close living quarters and working environments. Through the use of face masks onboard, each member’s risk of contracting COVID-19 was reduced by 70%.
  • A study conducted in Bangkok interviewed more than 1,000 people on mask-wearing as part of the contact tracing process. This study found that those who wore a mask reduced their risk of acquiring COVID-19 by 77%, compared with those who did not wear masks.
  • A United States cross-sectional survey was conducted across a range of countries with mask policies to investigate the mortality rate per-capita. The results from the 374,021 survey respondents found that a mere 10% increase in mask-wearing tripled the chances of stopping transmission within the community.

Side-effects of wearing a mask

If you are an individual without illness or disability, there are no significant, adverse health effects of wearing a mask.

A recent study reported no change in either oxygen or carbon dioxide levels during mask wearing in a restful or active state.

What type of mask is best?

The quality of the mask makes a difference.

The best face mask is a single-use surgical mask. If you are unable to get a surgical mask, any paper or cloth masks are fine to use. The most effective cloth masks are made up of at least 3 layers.

Overall comfort and consistency are the two most important factors in the choice of a mask. It’s not going to do any good if you don’t want to wear it. In comparing mask materials, as a general rule, surgical masks are typically more effective than cloth masks, however you’re encouraged to wear a mask that you find comfortable for wearing throughout the day. Remember to change your mask daily or more frequently if dirty or wet. Cloth masks must be washed each day.

Mandatory mask wearing

To protect the health of Queenslanders, wearing a face mask is currently mandatory in South East Queensland when you leave your home. There are some exceptions including children under 12 years old, when you are in your private vehicle, doing strenuous exercise or if you have a medical condition.

Carry some in your car, strap one to your arm and keep one in your pocket or handbag. Let's keep each other safe.

Get tested if you have any symptoms

If you have any COVID-19 symptoms at all, no matter how mild, get tested and isolate until you receive your test results.

Find your nearest testing location at http://qld.gov.au/covid19testing

More information

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Last updated: 3 August 2021