An Instagram post claims that being “anti-science would be reading the label on a box of masks that says ‘does not protect against viral infections’ and still wearing one”. The post includes an image of the side of a box which says it contains ‘ear loop masks’. The label also says that the product is “not a respirator” and “will not protect against Covid-19, or other viruses and contaminants”.
‘Ear loop masks’ could be used to refer to lots of different types of face masks or coverings, but the phrase is commonly used to refer to surgical-type face masks, though may also include fabric face coverings.
The evidence and understanding around how much protection these types of face masks can offer the wearer has varied over the course of the pandemic.
However, face masks and certain types of coverings have been shown to be able to reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets and to help protect others. The World Health Organisation (WHO), for example, advises that in addition to other actions, “masks are a key measure to suppress transmission and save lives”.
A 2020 article in Nature reported that animal studies and observational studies in humans add to evidence to show a correlation between mask wearing and a reduction in spread of the virus from an infected source.
A recent meta analysis (where a number of studies are analysed collectively) in the British Medical Journal also showed that mask wearing, alongside other precautionary measures like social distancing and hand washing, was associated with a reduction in risk.
It is recommended that fabric face masks or face coverings should be made of breathable material, be at least two to three layers thick and be well secured.
There are other types of face masks, such as respirators, which have also been shown to protect the wearer.