This information has been reviewed and approved by Marjorie Patricia George, MD (August 2020).
The coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus. It can be spread when infected and asymptomatic people exhale during breathing, speaking, singing, coughing and sneezing. In addition to inhaling SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, people can be infected by touching contaminated surfaces. Wearing facemasks and washing hands protect you from the virus.
Your breath is made up of oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water vapor. Anytime a breath leaves your mouth, the gases in your breath cool and turn into liquid. Depending on the size, this liquid is also called water droplets or aerosol particles. Water droplets are larger. Gravity pulls them down to surfaces faster than they can evaporate. Smaller droplets and aerosol particles evaporate quickly, but they can travel with air currents for a period of time. A normal cough can spread particles more than 27 inches. Source
Asymptomatic carriers are people who have the virus in their airways and do not have symptoms of illness, yet can still transmit the virus. There are an unknown number of people who are asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19. Wearing a mask dramatically reduces how far the amount of exhaled droplets and particles travel and the amount of particles exhaled into in the air from asymptomatic carriers.
Wearing a mask also decreases the chance of exposure when there are virus-containing particles in the air.
Wearing a mask in all public places can significantly reduce your risk of spreading and contracting the disease. This protects you as well as those around you, and the people with whom you live.
Not wearing a mask puts people at the highest risk of catching an infection. No mask means no protection.
Cloth facemasks have been shown to reduce the size and amount of droplets put into the air, reduce how fast and far water droplets travel and limit droplets from leaking out when worn properly.
Researchers have tested a variety of cloth masks and found that when worn properly, cloth masks do prevent COVID-19:
Learn more about COVID-19 and how it affects specific health conditions in these printable patient education materials.
Download COVID-19 Materials