Man wearing surgical mask

Use and Fit of Face Masks

Angie Szumlinski Health, Studies

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has spread to more than 200 countries and regions within the last year, causing a once-in-a-century health crisis with more than 90 million cases and 1.9 million deaths worldwide. The use of face masks has been widely recommended to reduce the risk of infection with the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the etiological agent of COVID-19, which is mainly transmitted by exhaled droplets. Although wearing a face mask reduces the risk of infection from 17.4% to 3.1%, a recent report documented transmission of SARS-CoV-2 during a flight despite face mask use, indicating that protection efficacy of face masks might be compromised by poor airtightness.

There currently are scarce data on the airtightness of face masks. Recent surveys in U.S. hospitals documented that airtightness of face masks, including N95 respirators, used by health care professionals was commonly suboptimal. For the disposable medical and surgical masks that are commonly used among community dwellers, the factors affecting face mask protection efficacy and ways to improve it remain undetermined.

In a study conducted in China, although most people used face masks in public places, compromised protection due to suboptimal airtightness was common. The simple approach of sealing the upper edge of the face mask with an adhesive tape strip was associated with substantially improved airtightness. We all use masks with metal nose pieces that we squeeze into place now but how many of us are taping the top edge of the mask to our face? Is this something we should consider? Not sure, stay tuned! Stay the course, stay well, mask up and get vaccinated!