Dr. Kevin Dalby Answers the Question: Can a Face Mask Prevent the Transmission of Viruses?

Before the coronavirus outbreak, protective masks were mainly used in American society by medical professionals, dentists, and veterinarians for safety, health regulations, and precautions. The mask’s purpose was to prevent viruses’ transmission in scenarios of high-risk situations such as surgery or examinations. When COVID-19 began to spread around the United States, wearing a face mask was slowly integrated into all citizens’ daily lives. The interest and discussion surrounding the effectiveness of face masks escalated quickly.

Kevin Dalby, Austin professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry at the College of Pharmacy at The University of Texas, does extensive research in areas including biochemistry, cancer, cell biology, chemical biology, drug discovery & diagnostics, and enzymology. As a part of the medical field, Dr. Dalby further explores whether wearing a face mask actually does the job in protecting someone against viruses such as COVID-19.  

Basic Knowledge Surrounding a Face Mask

When looking at what information the public has been exposed to regarding face masks and what the CDC (the Center for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends, it is vital to break down the communicated facts. Due to the spread of the coronavirus, the CDC has informed healthy individuals to wear a mask over the nose and mouth outside their homes when entering the world around while advising ill individuals to stay home and out of the public areas. The CDC website states to maintain social distance by staying six-feet apart and wearing a mask around anyone who is not from the same household. Through these actions, the CDC says that the prevention of the coronavirus spread will be served.

However, the CDC advises not wearing a mask for those under the age of two years old or those experiencing trouble breathing, unconscious, incapacitated, or are unable to put on and remove a mask without assistance. When it comes to types of acceptable coverings, the CDC advises against masks with exhalation valves or vents, saying that they do not help in virus infection prevention.

Due to the shortage of supply, the CDC is not recommending medical face masks to the general public. However, not all masks are equal in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19, creating confusion for the public.

Face Mask Evidence Behind Effectiveness

According to the CDC, the evidence behind face mask effectiveness is to simply provide a barrier between individuals for source control. A mask protects one person from the next who might sneeze, cough, talk, raise their tone of voice. From such actions, the virus can be spread from respiratory droplets traveling into the air and onto other healthy individuals.

The CDC and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have certified N95 masks deeming that they do indeed help in viral spreading. N95 masks are proven to filter ninety-five percent of airborne particles sizing in zero point three microns or larger.

Cloth masks or cloth face coverings are recommended for public use in public settings such as grocery stores where social distancing might not always be possible. Unfortunately, cloth masks are not as effective as surgical or N95 masks. However, prevention is still assisted with the wear of cloth masks in public areas.

About Kevin Dalby

Kevin Dalby has been interested in the “why” of chemical reactions since he was a student at the University of Cambridge, where he graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Organic Chemistry. This has led to his interest in the processes of cell signaling, and ultimately to cancer research. Dr. Dalby’s research areas include biochemistry, cancer, cell biology, chemical biology, drug discovery & diagnostics, and enzymology.