Everything You Need to Know About Face Masks During the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic

Photo Courtesy: Noam Galai/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, state and federal government officials made some confusing and complete U-turns in their recommendations about the potential benefits of wearing protective face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19. U.S. government leaders initially advised people to avoid wearing face masks. But, it was later revealed that this decision was an effort to prevent nationwide mask shortages that would affect the availability of medical-grade face coverings for healthcare workers. As shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) eventually declined, organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and prominent healthcare leaders like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, changed their tunes. Face coverings were deemed essential for preventing the spread of the virus.

These shifts from earlier advice were initially confusing to many Americans, especially those who believed they were doing the smart — and right — thing by foregoing masks. But since early April of 2020, the CDC's updated recommendation has become a common refrain: Masks slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect us and the people around us. Despite previous uncertainty, it's clear now that wearing masks is an essential element of safeguarding our health. But not all face coverings are equally effective at stopping the spread of infectious respiratory droplets. Here's what you need to know about choosing the right — and most protective — mask.