Face masks and coronavirus protection FAQs

Posted 5th August 2020

Why wear a mask?

Wearing a cloth mask or covering in public when physical distancing can’t be observed offers protection against transmission of COVID-19. If you are in a public place where you will encounter other people, it is important to wear a mask for both their and your own safety.

It’s possible to have coronavirus and pass it on to others without showing symptoms. It is for this reason that all of us should be taking protective measures. A mask helps contain small droplets that come out of your mouth and/or nose when you talk, sneeze or cough. If you are healthy it will provide protection from those around you [1].

How should you wear a mask?

When wearing a mask, it should cover your face from the bridge of your nose to under your chin. It should be loose fitting but still secure enough to remain in place. Make sure you can talk with your mask on and that it doesn’t irritate you, so you are not tempted to adjust it as touching the mask and your face will limit its effectiveness [1].

How effective are the different types of masks?

  • N95 respirators

A tight-fitting N95 mask is able to block out small particle aerosols and large droplets and is roughly 95% effective at preventing virus transmission [2]. Wearers should find the right make, model and size to ensure a tight seal [1].

  • Surgical masks

Surgical masks primarily prevent the wearer from spreading infectious droplets to others [1]. It is more effective at limiting the spread of droplets from coughs and sneezes coming from the wearer, but because it is highly permeable, it does not provide much protection against small virus particles [2]. A typical surgical mask filters about 60-80% of particles [2].

  • Cloth masks

Cloth masks will vary in effectiveness depending on the way they are made. They should be made with at least two layers of fabric and fit snugly to create as much of a seal as possible [2].

How effective are face shields?

Visor-style face shields have been shown to be less effective than masks, as in close proximity with others you are still exposed to breathing in small vapour particles. They have, however, been proven to be 96% effective at protecting against droplets from coughs and sneezes, and are more protective of the eyes, which the virus may also enter from [3]. It also requires less adjustment than a mask, and therefore less risk of touching the face and contamination.

To ensure the most effective protection for yourself and others, the best option may be to use a face shield in conjunction with a mask.


While wearing a mask will prevent you from spreading COVID-19, physical distancing and frequent, thorough handwashing are still the best ways to avoid infection and spread of the virus [1].



[1] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-face-masks-what-you-need-to-know

[2] https://curistrelief.com/blogs/curist/coronavirus-masks-n95-vs-surgical-vs-cloth-vs-homemade

[3] https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2020/shields-compared-to-masks.html