But the real worry about wearing a mask is that you start to believe it protecting you more than it really is. Behavioral economists know that when people begin to feel safe, they take more risks. It’s a phenomenon seen when federal regulations first made cars safer with added features like seat belts, and people responded by driving more recklessly. When doctors wear decontamination gowns, studies show they may become laxer about safety protocols. When communities in Mexico began outdoor mosquito spraying to combat dengue fever, families were less likely to adopt personal prevention practices.
Even a face mask is very effective at trapping droplets from your coughs and sneezes. A recent study published in Nature from the University of Hong Kong and the University of Maryland asked 111 people, infected with various viral illnesses (influenza, rhinovirus and a more-mild corona virus), to exhale into a giant funnel. Sometimes their noses and mouths were covered other times they used a simple, not-particularly-well-fitted mask.
Why masks matter more for this corona virus
To start, this corona virus is a new virus, which means our immune systems have never encountered it before. It’s different from the seasonal flu, which most of us have some protection from, either because of previous exposure to related influenza viruses or because we got a flu shot. One of the biggest worries is that health workers, who get vaccinated to stay well during flu season, have no protection from corona virus.
The writer Peter Hessler, who recently wrote about life in lock down in China for The New Yorker, created names for the various ways in which people take breaks from masks while wearing them as a way to explain the right and wrong ways to wear a mask to his daughters. The is a mask pulled down and resting on the neck. The happens when a person takes one ear loop off to talk on the phone. And then there’s the below rider. This is when you pretend that you are obeying the rules, but actually tug the mask down so that your nostrils are uncovered he said. All can make the mask far less effective in protecting against germs.
The CDC recommends that everyone — sick or healthy — wear a cloth face mask in places where it can be hard to stay 6 feet away from others, like grocery stores. That’s because studies show that people can spread corona virus even if they don’t have symptoms (called asymptomatic) or before they have symptoms (called presymptomatic). In fact, you might be the most contagious just before symptoms begin.