Surgical masks may offer some protection to the wearer from Covid-19 and may stop them from infecting others

29 July 2020
What was claimed

The masks they give to hospital staff and in schools say they do not protect against Covid-19.

Our verdict

The masks pictured may offer some limited protection to the wearer, and can stop them spreading it if they are infected. Hospital staff are required to wear these masks, but they may also wear respirators that do protect the wearer. Face coverings and masks are not recommended for use at schools in England except in some circumstances.

A picture of a box of face masks, which says on the side that they “will not provide any protection against Covid-19 (coronavirus) or other viruses or contaminants” has been shared on Facebook.

The image of the box seems genuine, as other masks have descriptions that make similar claims. However, the box is referring to the wearer of the mask when it says it offers no protection against Covid-19. 

Surgical masks like the one in the image may have some (limited) protective effect for the wearer but they are more useful in preventing the spread of Covid-19 from the wearer to other people.

Concrete evidence on this is limited, but there is some evidence that in healthcare settings wearing a mask like this can help protect you. Outside of hospitals, the science is limited and doesn’t give a clear picture, but suggests that masks don't significantly reduce your own chance of catching the virus. Social distancing and regularly washing your hands is the best way to protect yourself. 

The evidence does suggest that a mask is likely to benefit other people if you wear one. You should still wear a mask or face covering because even if you don’t have symptoms, as you could have Covid-19 and be infectious. Some people may be infected but not be showing symptoms yet, and there is some evidence that this may be when people are most infectious. So even if you feel fine, you may be able to spread the virus. As it’s spread by respiratory droplets and close contact between people, in places where social distancing is difficult such as shops, masks may slow the spread. 

Masks for hospital staff and in schools

The post claims that the masks pictured are given to “hospital staff and schools”. From 15 June, NHS hospital staff in England have been required to wear type one or type two surgical masks. These are like the masks in the Facebook post, and only offer limited protection for the wearer from Covid-19, but can stop them spreading it. Depending on what the staff are doing, they may be required to wear respirators, such as an FFP2, that can protect the wearer from Covid-19.

The government says that “wearing a face covering or face mask in schools or other education settings is not recommended” and that schools and other childcare or education settings should not require staff, children and learners to wear face coverings. There are only some circumstances where masks and other PPE is needed, for example if a child becomes unwell with Covid-19 symptoms in one of these settings and needs to be looked after by an adult and a two metre distance cannot be maintained.

Face coverings became mandatory in shops in England from 24 July, and are also mandatory in Scotland. They’re also mandatory on public transport across the UK, and in hospitals in England and Scotland

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as partly false because the picture is genuine, although these masks are likely to provide some protection to other people if the wearer is infected and may provide some protection to the wearer.

Update 7 August 2020

We added two links to scientific papers as evidence that you wearing a mask is likely to benefit other people.

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