[VIDEO] Unmasked germs are actually pretty gross

Published June 23, 2020


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated masking guidelines since this was written. Get the latest information.

Why are Nebraska doctors urging you to wear a mask? Do masks really help slow the spread of COVID-19?

All the hype about masks can be summed up in three points:

  1. COVID-19 is spread by droplets.
  2. Masks prevent droplets from spreading. 
  3. Limit the spread of droplets, and you limit the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 is spread by droplets

Just like flu or the common cold, COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets. That's why people who feel sick need to self-isolate for 14 days. 

But people who don't feel sick can spread COVID-19, too. Many people have the coronavirus and spread it to others without showing a single symptom themselves. When these asymptomatic carriers talk, yell, exercise, sing or even just exhale, the virus spreads. The reality of asymptomatic carriers makes public interactions tricky. Enter all the emphasis on masks.

Masks prevent droplets from spreading

Medical experts have been wearing masks for years, because they know they work. But sometimes it's hard to imagine. 

How many droplets are we really spewing?

Using laser light scattering, researchers visualized droplets when someone is masked or unmasked. The difference is night and day.

The mask you see (or rather, can't see) in the video above was not a medical mask. It was a simple washcloth. From this video, you can actually see that masks work. Masks block the droplets from spreading and the virus those droplets contain.

The New England Journal of Medicine published the video above in the article Visualizing Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets via Laser Light Scattering

The researchers counted 347 droplets released by saying the words "stay healthy". Many of those 347 droplets are small enough to stay in the air for some time. Shouting or yelling spreads more droplets than talking in a quiet voice.

Limit the spread of droplets, and you limit the spread of COVID-19

The third point gets to why there's so much fuss about masks. We all want this pandemic to end. The question is: Are you slowing the spread or ignoring it? When you wear a mask, you avoid spreading COVID-19. 

Public health experts agree that universal mask wearing – by itself – can't end the COVID-19 pandemic. Masks are one piece of the puzzle: social distancing, widespread testing, isolating sick individuals and frequent handwashing are others. That's why we advocate for wearing a mask in public, as well as limiting how much you interact with others.

Because our health care professionals are experts in disease control, the safest places to be in the midst of a pandemic are hospitals and clinics. Our universal masking policy protects you and all of our staff from any accidental spread. Because masks work, it's safe to come back and see your local health care provider. 

Read more about masks: