Experts Weigh In On If Wearing a Mask Helps If No One Else Around You Is

There was a time during the pandemic where pretty much everyone wore a face mask in public. It was required in most public places. You couldn’t go shopping or go to work without wearing a face mask.

Now, face mask mandates are quickly disappearing. They’re not even required on most airplanes anymore. While many people are ready to ditch the face masks for good, others don’t feel ready to go maskless just yet.

Go anywhere in public where there isn’t a mask mandate, and you will probably see a lot of people not wearing face masks. Yet, you will also still see some people wearing face masks. It’s easy to wonder if it does any good to wear a face mask if no one else has one on.

AARP asked multiple experts to weigh in on whether or not it’s helpful to wear a face mask if nobody else is wearing a face mask. In short, the answer is that yes, it is still helpful but there are many factors at play that determine just how helpful it may be. For example, what type of mask are you wearing? How does it fit? What’s the ventilation like in this public space? Are you vaccinated?

Infectious disease expert Carlos del Rio, M.D. made the case that one-way masking is effective in a clear and easy to understand way. He explained that he wears a face mask when he treats tuberculosis patients, but he never asks the patients to wear a face mask. He added, “And I have never been infected by tuberculosis by doing that.” 

You may be thinking back to all of the doctors and medical staff you encountered pre-pandemic who were wearing face masks at work, yet you, the patient, were not wearing a face mask. Yup, seems to make sense that one-way masking makes a difference.

In order to maximize the protection from wearing a face mask, it’s important to wear a high quality mask such as an N95 or K-N95 mask. It’s also important to make sure the mask fits your face snugly without allowing air to enter around the sides of the mask.

M. Patricia Fabian is an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health at the Boston University School of Public Health. She explains that N95 masks are effective because “they filter out about 95 percent of small particles. But a 95-percent reduction is a big reduction in exposure.” That means that with a properly fitting face mask, you would be 95% more protected than without one.

Do you still wear a face mask in public places?