Even if you aren't sick, you should still be wearing a face mask.Sarah Tew/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.
Across the US, many states have mandated that face masks be worn in public or in areas where social distancing isn't possible in order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, as per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even President Donald Trump, who has long declined to wear one, tweeted a photo of himself with a face mask on, calling mask wearing a "patriotic act." And on July 10, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Robert Kaplan, said mask wearing will help the economy rebound faster.
Though there's still much about the coronavirus that's unknown, misinformation about face coverings is circulating. CNET's Science Editor, Jackson Ryan, who holds a Ph.D. in Medical Clinical Sciences, called antivaccine conspiracies "dangerous and ill-informed."
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For example, some people who are opposed to mask wearing have begun donning mesh masks that "cover" their nose and mouth but still allow through the kinds of droplets known to transmit the virus. And others believe they don't need to wear a mask if they're not experiencing symptoms -- that's a myth that isn't supported by leading health experts, doctors, scientists or national and international recommendations.
Here are seven myths about wearing face masks during the pandemic. This story updates frequently with new information and draws recommendations from the CDC, the World Health Organization and other health care institutions. It's intended for informational purposes and isn't medical advice. If you think you have the coronavirus, follow these steps.
Read more: Where to buy a face mask online now
Myth 1: The coronavirus isn't real, so masking isn't necessary
More than 16.4 million confirmed cases and nearly 654,000 deaths caused by the coronavirus across the globe have been reported. Yet some people still believe the virus is either a hoax or overblown. The United States alone has had over four million confirmed cases and more than 150,000 deaths. Marketwatch reported that around one in three Americans believe the coronavirus hasn't killed as many people as reported.
Many believe that a 26-minute video touting conspiracy theories, called Plandemic, and its subsequent distribution through social media, is in part responsible for spreading COVID untruths. These falsehoods have been repeatedly debunked across the medical and scientific communities.
If you're going out in public or around people who aren't in your household, wear a face mask to protect yourself and others. You or the other person could be sick without your knowledge, either because you're asymptomatic, presymptomatic or mistake mild symptoms for other causes, e.g. allergies. People who are mildly affected can spread the virus to other populations, including loved ones who are at higher risk for developing severe forms of COVID-19.
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Myth 2: Masks can be made of any material as long as your face is covered
With a subset of people against the idea of wearing face masks ("anti-maskers"), several sellers online are offering mesh and lace masks for purchase. The vendors make the claim that the masks are more breathable. But an open weave doesn't fulfill the function of trapping large respiratory droplets -- from talking, coughing and sneezing -- that could contain the coronavirus.
The best masks feature a tight-knit material and/or a filter pocket to help prevent respiratory droplets from passing through the mask. The most protective masks, N95 respirators, block 95% of tiny particles, including viruses, but during the pandemic they've been hard to come by and organizations have said medical and health care workers should be given first dibs.
A study (PDF) from the University of Arizona found that wearing a face covering slashed the risk of infection by 24 percent for a simple cotton covering and up to 99 percent for a professional, medical-grade filtration mask. The researchers also rank-ordered face mask material from most to least effective in their testing.
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Wear a mask even when you're not experiencing symptoms.Sarah Tew/CNET
Myth 3: Only sick people need to wear face masks
Just because you're not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms doesn't mean you're not sick. The CDC cites more than a dozen studies that show asymptomatic or presymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus, even if they're not aware they're sick.
The earliest recommendations from the WHO supported the stance that healthy people didn't need to wear masks, but after more evidence emerged, the organization updated its official recommendation.
To prevent transmitting the virus to others, it's safest to wear a mask any time you're around someone who isn't in your household. It'll help lower the risk of spreading respiratory droplets from talking, coughing and sneezing.
There's growing evidence that the coronavirus may be airborne, meaning it could linger in the air long enough for someone to breathe it in and become infected. Wearing a mask forms a barrier that traps virus-containing droplets emitted by the wearer. In other words, if you're not wearing a mask and you breathe in the same air as an infected person who also isn't wearing a mask, your risk of acquiring the coronavirus increases.
Myth 4: Wearing a medical mask causes you to breathe in more carbon dioxide
When worn properly, masks cover the bridge of the nose (above the nostrils) and extend below the chin without gaps on the sides, completely covering your nose and mouth.
Some people suggest that medical masks (also known as surgical masks) trap exhaled carbon dioxide and cause you to breathe in more CO2. The WHO says the prolonged use of surgical masks doesn't lead to CO2 intoxication or lack of oxygen.
Masks are only one step to preventing the spread of coronavirus.Anne Dujmovic/CNET
Myth 5: You don't have to social distance if you're wearing a mask
People wear masks to reduce their chance of getting or spreading the coronavirus, like if they're in a crowded market, at the pool or lake or walking downtown. However, the WHO says the use of masks alone isn't enough to provide a sufficient amount of protection. Unlike with N95 masks, which undergo a certification process, there's no regulatory body governing the materials or process that go into the face masks you buy or make at home.
For example, a cloth mask with only one layer of fabric isn't considered as robust as a cloth mask with three layers and a filter. Meanwhile, N95 masks are certified, but after a critical shortage put frontline workers at risk, organizations have said they should be left for health care workers.
Along with mask use, you should continue to practice physical distancing, wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face.
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Myth 6: Masks will weaken your immune system
This myth stems from the idea that the human immune system is strengthened by exposure to bacteria and other pathogens.
The American Lung Association says there's no scientific evidence that wearing a mask weakens the immune system. However, there's evidence young, healthy people without preexisting conditions can and do become severely ill or account for the spread of COVID-19. For example, in California as of July 26, the age group with the highest number of reported cases was 18-34, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Washing your hands and wearing a mask won't negatively impact your immune system, especially in adults who already have developed immune systems, according to Beaumont Health. If you're concerned about having a weakened constitution, here are five ways to strengthen your immune system.
Myth 7: Cloth masks offer no protection from COVID-19
At the beginning of the pandemic, the coronavirus was so new that doctors were unsure of the extent to which wearing cloth face coverings or homemade masks -- compared with medical-grade surgical or N95 masks -- would help prevent the virus from spreading.
However, studies have since suggested that a mask over the nose and mouth works as a physical barrier against respiratory droplets that can carry and spread the coronavirus. Though a cloth covering alone may not be able to completely prevent someone from acquiring the coronavirus, CDC Director Robert Redfield said on July 14 that if everyone wore a mask, the COVID spread would be possible to contain.
Other countries that required the use of masks early on in the pandemic have seen the spread of coronavirus slow down, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Need more information about face masks? Here's where you can buy one online, how to make your face mask more comfortable and the best and worst materials for protecting against coronavirus.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.