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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman May 21, 2020

Mask box label is legitimate, but people are misinterpreting it

If Your Time is short

  • The N95 respirator offers the most protection against viral particles for the wearer because it can filter very small aerosol particles.

  • But other masks, like the ones in the photo or homemade fabric masks, are effective in reducing the spread of the disease because they help stop asymptomatic individuals from unknowingly spreading the disease.

Online rumors continue to claim that different face masks are ineffective in protecting against the spread of COVID-19.

We recently fact-checked this false claim, yet new versions on Facebook are now pointing to a warning label that appears to be on the side of a box of disposable surgical masks. The label in the image reads:

"This product is an ear loop mask, this product is not a respirator and will not provide any protections against COVID-19 (coronavirus) and other viruses or contaminants."

The photo appears to be legitimate. But the words on the label are being misinterpreted as evidence to suggest that masks are not effective. 

One person who posted the picture wrote: "Gee....wonder how many people are gonna tell me I haven't done my research now? Black and white. Right there. Even the people making the masks know it's all bull."

 

But that’s not what this photo shows. This is a misunderstanding about the kind of protection standard masks provide and a misreading of the disclaimer, which isn’t saying the masks are ineffective at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

The posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

Certain medical-grade masks, such as the N95 respirator, offer the most protection against viral particles for the wearer because it can filter aerosol particles as small as 0.3 micron.

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But other masks, like the ear-loop ones in the photo or homemade cloth masks, are effective in reducing the spread of the disease, or what health experts call "source control." When you wear these masks it is most helpful to people around you.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t recommend that the general public wear medical-grade masks like the N95 because they are in high demand, and officials say they should be reserved for health care workers who are in direct contact with infected patients. 

As an additional public health measure, the agency recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings to help slow the spread of COVID-19 (emphasis ours):

The "CDC still recommends that you stay at least 6 feet away from other people (social distancing), frequent hand cleaning and other everyday preventive actions. A cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer, but it may prevent the spread of virus from the wearer to others. This would be especially important if someone is infected but does not have symptoms."

Jeremy Howard, a data scientist at the University of San Francisco, wrote an article in the Conversation in favor of universal mask wearing.

Howard says that researchers were looking at the wrong question at first – how well a mask protects the wearer from infection – and not how well a mask prevents an infected person from spreading the virus. He said masks function very differently as personal protective equipment versus "source control."

Our ruling

A photograph of a box of disposable masks shows a warning label that says the masks "will not provide any protections against COVID-19."

Such disclaimers don’t mean that the masks are ineffective at slowing the spread of the disease, but that they don’t protect the wearer as well as medical respirators such as the N95 recommended for use by health care professionals. Disposable and homemade cloth masks are recommended for people to wear because it protects others around them in case they have the virus and may not be showing any symptoms. 

The users sharing this image are making a false interpretation of the type of protection standard face masks provide. We rate it False.

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Mask box label is legitimate, but people are misinterpreting it

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