When you wear a mask, you protect others as well as you. Masks work best when everyone wears one.
COVID-19 virus spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets over short distances. This is known as droplet transmission. Respiratory droplets are released into the air when people breathe, speak, sing, cough, shout, or sneeze. It is thought that most infections are spread through large respiratory droplets that travel less than 6 feet before falling out of the air. These droplets can infect other people if they are breathed in or land in the mouths or noses of others who are nearby. People who are close to a person with COVID-19 are at the greatest risk of infection.
Under certain conditions, the virus may be spread through smaller respiratory droplets or particles that can remain suspended in the air and travel a longer distance to infect people who are further away or who entered an enclosed space after the infected person left. This is known as airborne transmission. Conditions that make airborne transmission more likely include being in an enclosed space or a space with poor ventilation, especially when people are singing, shouting, or breathing heavily (like with exercise). These conditions can allow for the build-up of smaller droplets or particles in the space that can remain in the air over longer distances (usually more than 6 feet) and for a longer time (minutes to hours). See How COVID-19 Spreads.
- Protecting others: wearing a mask reduces the number of respiratory droplets that you release into the air.
- Protecting yourself: wearing a mask also reduces the number of respiratory droplets from someone else that get into your nose, mouth, and lungs.
Everyone needs to wear a mask even when they feel well. This is because people with COVID-19 can spread the virus to others before they get symptoms or without ever getting symptoms.
For masks to work best, everyone should be wearing them:
- Consistently (whenever they are around people they don’t live with) and
- Correctly (covering BOTH their mouth and nose).