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Do Masks Work? A Pharmacist Compares Mask wearing to Pregnancy

As a pharmacist, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about the treatment and prevention of COVID-19. The information about this novel virus is constantly changing and updating. Nobody is an expert right now. We don’t have all of the answers. My most common question is “Do masks work?” Read on and I will explain how mask wearing compares to pregnancy.

Will wearing a mask protect you from COVID-19?

Do Masks Work?

“Do masks work?” Yes, there is evidence to support universal mask wearing as a way to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Lancet published recent review of 172 studies across 16 countries in 6 continents that concluded face mask use could result in a large reduction of risk of infection.1 None of the studies reviewed were randomized but the review concluded that until better information is available this information is convincing enough to recommend face mask use to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Another recent study published in JAMA evaluated the spread of COVID-19 in healthcare workers before and after a universal mask mandate.2 This study concluded that universal mask wearing does help prevent transmission of COVID-19. The authors also pointed out that masks are not just for personal protection. They indicated that masks are for source control, meaning that masks protect others. They compared masking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to surgeons wearing masks to prevent surgical infections. Nobody would want an unmasked surgeon, just like nobody should want an unmasked cashier.

In addition to these studies, The CDC is recommending mask wearing along with social distancing and hand washing as ways to protect yourself and others.

Another common question I hear is: “Why should I wear a mask?” You should wear a mask because, until we have a vaccine for COVID-19 universally available, mask wearing along with social distancing, and hand washing is our best defense against this virus. If you don’t want to wear a mask for your own health, please consider wearing it to protect the health of others. That leads me to my pregnancy analogy.

How is wearing a mask for COVID-19 prevention like being pregnant?

I first came up with this analogy when I was tired of all of mask complainers. This pandemic is not the first or only time a health recommendation has been implemented to protect the health of others.

Pregnancy is a perfect example of a temporary time in life when the healthcare community makes recommendations to protect the health of others. Pregnant women are advised to abstain from certain freedoms and encouraged to obtain prenatal care not just for their own health but mostly to protect their unborn child.

Like pregnancy, pandemics don’t last forever.* Just like pregnant women are encouraged not to ride roller coasters and avoid drinking any alcohol, we are currently encouraged to social distance and wear masks. Also like pregnancy these recommendations will not last forever, and our personal freedoms will return. In the case of pregnancy the mother is protecting her baby, in the case of mask wearing we are protecting our mothers and grandmothers. Pay it forward! Wear a mask to protect our mothers and Grandmothers.

*Some still refer to HIV/Aids as a current pandemic, but I based this statement on the World Health Organization’s current classification of HIV/AIDS as an epidemic.

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