As cities across eastern Idaho debate mask mandates, many viewers have asked about whether or not masks work. Local health experts weigh in on the subject.

"While early on in the pandemic it was sort of unclear, the evidence is in and it's solid that masks do help," says Southeastern Idaho Public Health Director Maggie Mann.

Local health experts ask Idahoans to wear masks in public to help slow the spread of COVID-19 which can spread through respiratory droplets when we cough, talk or even just breathe. "If we can decrease that droplet burden, if you will, it's going to decrease the spread of the virus itself," adds Portneuf Medical Center's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Daniel Snell.

A recent study produced by four scientists from Brigham Young University helps shed more light on the topic. The study is called Making sense of the research on COVID-19 and masks.

The scientists compiled and reviewed 115 studies from across the United States and the world on the topic and found among many things the following: One, cloth masks can stop 90 percent of the dispersal of droplets carrying the virus. Two, masks are highly safe for most children, adults and the elderly. Three, masks could be one of the most powerful and cost-effective tools to stop COVID-19.

Local health officials agree with the study. Mann says, "There is a growing body of research-based evidence that demonstrates very clearly that masks are an effective tool to help limit the spread of the virus to other people. They're most effective when we're also following other practices like maintaining that six feet of physical distancing."

For many, the question arises: "What type of mask should I use? Cloth mask? Surgical mask? Or an N95?"

Health officials say all masks provide some level of protection. However, not all masks are made equal. Dr. Snell explains, "The cloth masks are more for the protection of others whereas the surgical and N95 masks are for the protection of the wearer. The N95 mask is small enough that it's going to be able to filter out the virus itself. The viral particles so that when you inhale you don't inhale any of them so long as you have the proper seal. Whereas a cloth mask is going to prevent the droplets from spreading."

Government officials encourage the use of cloth masks to save the medical grade mask supply for hospitals. Although Dr. Snell says those at highest risk for the virus may want to use surgical masks.

However, there is a way to add extra protection to those cloth masks for the wearer. Mann says, "Cloth face coverings like the one I'm wearing, it has a double layer and it also has a removable filter that I can take out and put a new one in. They have demonstrated to be very, very effective."

To read the study conducted by BYU scientists visit: https://pws.byu.edu/covid-19-and-masks

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