The Role of Surgical Masks in Preventing COVID-19 Transmission


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are constantly making new recommendations regarding public safety during the novel coronavirus pandemic. While most experts recommend wearing face masks in public, such as medical-grade surgical masks or cloth masks, what role exactly do these masks play in keeping us healthy?

Are face masks our first or last line of defense?

CDC has issued guidance on the circumstances in which it is recommended to wear a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic, but a recent study explained why normal, everyday surgical face masks could help protect us against the new coronavirus - only as the last line of defense.

Federal agencies are now recommending that we at least wear cloth face coverings when we’re going out in a public setting, all while maintaining social distancing measures in stores, pharmacies, and other public places. This is because these types of coverings are aimed to protect those around us from catching the virus if we’re infected, and in situations of community-based transmissions, one might be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic and involuntarily infect other people.

And by advising the use of surgical masks and cloth masks, the CDC are maintaining the position that people shouldn’t go as far as to purchase N95 respirators because they’re deemed to be crucial for the healthcare workers working the front line during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to mention, some areas have faced shortages of protective equipment.

How do surgical face masks / cloth masks actually protect us?

A recent study from the University of Maryland shows us how surgical masks could help prevent the transmission of the coronavirus in community settings by reducing the chance that someone with a viral infection will shed infectious particles.

It’s important to note that their study was conducted before the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the information they gathered is still relevant to the current debates about the efficiency of masks and other protective materials for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Studies conclude that surgical face masks can slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In this study, researchers gathered more than 240 participants who had a respiratory infection from a flu virus or a coronavirus.

Then, they split them into two groups. They provided surgical masks to only one of the groups.

Next, they asked all participants to exhale through a state-of-the-art machine designed to capture particles in the air emitted through such exhalations. This way, they aimed to determine whether masks could effectively capture the tiny droplets of body fluids that we release in which the viruses are usually carried.

The study demonstrated that even minuscule droplets that are carried through regular breathing were enough to spread the flu or virus. However, in this study, the researchers found that surgical masks could indeed prevent the transmission of the flu or virus by decreasing the amount of shed body fluids.

Surgical masks also helped reduce the number of viral particles shed through coughing or sneezing, but had less effectiveness capturing the aerosols emitted just by breathing.

In over 100 people infected by either an influenza virus or a coronavirus, masks were able to reduce the detectable viral particles in acutely-released respiratory droplets and aerosols.

Based on these findings, the co-director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control, Prof. Benjamin J. Cowling, noted that surgical masks play a vital role in our ability to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

However, researchers themselves noted that masks should be the last protective measure in the context of reducing COVID-19 transmissions in a community setting.

Do we all need to wear masks?

The majority of medical experts recommend that you should wear a basic surgical face mask or cloth mask/face covering every time you go out in public or you’re in a community setting.

But what you should know is that virologists have proven that surgical face masks cannot block viruses that spread through your nose or eyes from entering your body.

What plain disposable face masks can do for you is limit the distance of how far viral particles can travel after they leave the wearer’s mouth or nose. This does prevent you from spreading the virus to others in cases that you are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.

If you want to increase your chances of protection, make sure your mask has a tight seal around your face that will protect harmful particles from going in and going out. To do this, you need a medical-grade respirator mask such as N95 or equivalent.

Where to buy face masks?

If you’re looking to buy disposable face masks:

Browse Clinical Supplies USA’s collection of face masks in our store here.


If you’re looking to buy N-95 respirator face masks:

If you’re looking to purchase wholesale face masks for sale/distribution to your local community:

Clinical Supplies USA is an American co-owned and run company specializing in providing quality protective supplies such as KN95 and 3ply masks, hand sanitizers, face shields, gloves, and more.


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