Face coverings are now mandatory in shops, on public transport and in other places in the UK – depending on where in the country you are, in a bid to stop the spread.
But now it’s been suggested that those masks could do more than prevent people from passing on Covid – with scientists suggesting they could provide immunity from the virus in the absence of a vaccine.
Do face coverings really provide coronavirus immunity though?
While it’s unproven that face coverings can actually give you Covid immunity, there has been suggestion in recent days from scientists that face masks could be inadvertently giving immunity to their wearers – thereby (in some ways) behaving in the same way as a vaccine would.
The findings were recorded in a report published in the New England Journal Of Medicine, and are based on the evidence that the severity of Covid cases depends on the ‘viral load’ – the amount of infection present in a patient – at the time of diagnoses.
Further medical research in The Lancet last month highlighted the importance of viral load in coronavirus cases, calling it an ‘independent predictor of mortality’ in patients in hospital – in other words the higher the levels of virus in a person’s body, the greater chance of them becoming seriously ill.
On that basis, this new report has suggested that wearing a face covering might help to reduce the severity of cases of the virus, as it is thought to lower infection dose by filtering out some of the infected droplets – resulting in a lower ‘viral load’ and more mild or asymptomatic Covid cases.
This process is known as ‘variolation’ – the practice of infecting people with low doses of a pathogen in the hopes of triggering an immune response – and it’s been suggested in the research that wearing masks could become a form of this which would ‘thereby slow the spread of the virus in the United States or elsewhere’ until a vaccine or cure comes along.
But while this may sound promising, it is by no means a confirmed way of beating Covid, mind – with experts having said that more research would need to be done on the subject.
With the colder months approaching, it’s not just Covid-19 which is causing concern, but the colds and flu which also punctuate the season as the temperatures drop and we start to spend more time indoors.
But since we’re all wearing face coverings against coronavirus anyway, could those also offer us some protection against those other winter bugs?
Well, the answer seems to be that while a face covering may not stop you from catching a cold or the flu, it could reduce your chances of getting sick – with a 2008 study from the International Journal Of Infectious Diseases suggesting face masks could reduce your chance of getting flu by 80%.
Another study by the CDC in the US in 2008 suggested a face covering could cut the risk of flu by half – but only in tandem with other preventative methods such as regular handwashing or using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
While your face mask may afford you some protection, it’s not necessarily just about keeping you safe – but others around you also, as a person in a face covering expels fewer droplets into the air that could potentially infect others.