Diverse group of people portraits with surgical masks

Why Wearing Masks Is Our New Normal

Facial coverings protect the wearer and others around them from respiratory diseases, including the most vulnerable in our society. Donning a mask when out in public is the new normal, and most infectious disease experts agree that face masks won’t be going away anytime soon. 

In fact, more research is showing the benefits of wearing a face mask to curb the spread of SARS-CoV- 2, the respiratory virus that causes COVID-19.

George Rutherford, III, MD, professor of epidemiology and director of the Prevention and Public Health Group at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, explained the significance of wearing a mask as a new, normal behavior as the pandemic marches on.

“Wearing a mask is incredibly important,” Rutherford said. “Unless you are going to shelter in place and have everything delivered to your front door, it’s the only thing separating you from COVID, especially as we start another fall surge of cases – which looks like it is going on in certain parts of the country.” 

Wearing a mask: Proof of preventing the spread 

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), published in July, provided evidence that wearing a mask prevented the spread of infection from two Missouri hair stylists to their customers.

“The results of the Missouri case study provide further evidence on the benefits of wearing a cloth face covering,” according to the CDC press release. “The investigation focused on two hair stylists — infected with and having symptoms of COVID-19 — whose salon policy followed a local ordinance requiring cloth face coverings for all employees and patrons. The investigators found that none of the stylists’ 139 clients or secondary contacts became ill, and all 67 clients who volunteered to be tested showed no sign of infection.”

This case study provides real-world confirmation of how wearing a mask is an important tool in slowing and in some cases, preventing the spread of this disease.

Wearing masks: New normal to protect yourself and those around you 

“Masks are not only going to protect you from inhaling it, but if you are one of the people who is asymptomatically infected -- which, by the way, the majority of people who are infectious are asymptomatic at the time they are infectious -- it protects people around you,” Rutherford explained.  

Rutherford and his colleagues are currently conducting research to understand why the mortality rates are lower with the second wave. “First of all, we’ve done a better job protecting nursing homes,” he explained. “But secondly, we think that because of masks, people might be getting infected with a smaller innacula – smaller doses of virus –- and as a consequence have less severe disease. That’s our theory right now and we are putting together data to prove it.” 

In addition to masks, some new research out of China also points to the effectiveness of wearing eyeglasses to block viral particles. Rutherford said he always tells people to wear a mask and glasses to help curb the spread. 

“There’s an out-of-control pandemic in the world that has killed 200,000 people in this country alone, and I think that should be reason enough to wear a mask,” Rutherford concluded. “And this is all we are asking you to do as a society to help protect others. It doesn’t strike me as that much of an ‘ask.’ It’s our best hope until we get a vaccine and it’s very well proven.”