Four Steps to Fewer COVID-19 Outbreaks | Step 2: When Indoors, Mask Up

In this short series, we cover four key strategies that will help reduce the likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak in your organization.

Liz Ruark
Flower shop employees wearing masks

As of September 20, 2022, this post will no longer be updated.

In our previous post in this series, we talked about vaccination, our #1 strategy for decreasing COVID-19 outbreaks in schools and workplaces. In this post, we’ll talk about another big gun we have in our anti-COVID arsenal: Masking.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads by hitching a ride on microscopic droplets of moisture that infected people breathe out and susceptible people then breathe in. So, masking is an obvious solution: If we all cover up our noses and mouths, anyone who’s infected will put less virus into the air, and anyone who isn’t infected will inhale less virus.

As you might expect, masking works best if we do it consistently, whenever we’re indoors at our organizations. (Outdoors doesn’t matter so much, because there’s just SO much non-infected air available that infected droplets disperse really quickly.) And remember, SARS-CoV-2’s main points of entry are both the mouth and the nose, so masking only really helps if we’re covering both of those up.

Other than vaccination, masking is the most powerful strategy we have to decrease the likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak in workplaces, schools, and communities. The more people who consistently wear their masks correctly when indoors, the less frequently our organizations need to test in order to substantially decrease outbreak risk.

And don’t forget — the better your mask is, the better your protection from COVID-19 is too. In fact, if you know that everyone at your organization wears high-efficiency masks, you can use the Workplace Testing Planner to see what a difference they make.

The Calculator assumes that most people will wear cloth masks, which have a fitted filtration efficiency of about 30% (0.3). If everyone in your organization wears high-efficiency masks, you can change the Calculator’s Advanced Settings to reflect their fitted filtration efficiency (about 85% or 0.85 for KN95s, and about 95% or 0.95 for N95s).

Mask Efficiency screen shot

When the pandemic first started, finding masks wasn’t so easy. Now you can get masks everywhere, but the quality can be hit-or-miss. When to Test’s partner, the nonprofit Project N95, was created to solve that problem by vetting masks and other PPE for quality.

So mask up when you’re indoors at your school or workplace! It’s a simple way to help keep ourselves, our coworkers, our students, and our friends and family safe from COVID-19.