Surgical and cotton masks were ineffective in preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This conclusion was from a study conducted at two hospitals in Seoul, South Korea. The research report was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
How Effective are Masks Against SARS-CoV-2?
N95 and surgical masks have been shown to be effective in reducing the spread of influenza. There have been various news about the public wearing masks in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the public to wear masks or face coverings on April 3, 2019. The CDC said up to one in four persons infected with COVID-19 will not show symptoms. They can still transmit the virus through what is called “presymptomatic transmission.”
It is thought that wearing masks may help stop the spread of the SARS COV-2 virus, as in the case of a mask wearer coughing or sneezing. With the shortage of masks, cotton masks have gained some popularity. It is not known exactly how effective surgical and cotton masks help stop the spread of the SARS COV-2 virus.
SARS-CoV-2 Found on All Surfaces After Coughs
In the study, patients infected with COVID-19 cough 5 times each onto a petri dish while wearing the following sequence of masks: no mask, surgical mask, cotton mask, and again with no mask. The outer surface of surgical mask, inner surface of surgical mask, outer surface of cotton mask, and inner surface of cotton mask were then swiped with a swab. The results showed that the SARS COV-2 virus was on all the surfaces. These findings appear to show that wearing masks is not effective in slowing the spread of the SARS COV-2 virus.
Masks are Part of the Equation
This study only looked at surgical and cotton masks. N95 masks were not included in the study. Also, other types of masks were not examined, so their effectiveness against stopping the spread of the SARS COV-2 virus is not known.
The best solution still appears to be self-isolation and social distancing to the maximal extent that is practically possible. However, as the CDC recommends, people can wear some kind of covering over their nose and mouth to at least have a barrier to block sneezes and coughs.