COVID-19 Community Information Center

Why wearing a face mask doesn’t replace social distancing or vice versa

“If masks work, why do I need to social distance? If social distancing works, why do I need to wear a mask?”

It’s a commonly asked question, because if you’re wearing a mask, it makes sense that you should be able to get closer to others as long as they’re wearing one too. Likewise, if everyone is social distancing, the need for masks goes out the window, right? While we wish that were true, wearing a mask does not replace social distancing measures or vice versa. Here’s why:

Masks are meant to lower the spread of your germs to others

Early in the pandemic, officials stated that it was only necessary to wear a mask if you were exhibiting symptoms or had a confirmed case of COVID-19 to help lower the chance of spread when you had to be outside of your home. Now we know that the same can be said even if you’re not showing symptoms or do not have a confirmed case.

Since research shows that up to 50 percent of those infected do not show symptoms, it’s safe to behave as if we already have the virus and take any necessary precautions to keep others safe. By covering your face in public, you are helping others to stay safe from anything you may be carrying. It’s more about their protection than your own.

Masks are not 100% effective, not even medical-grade ones

No mask offers 100 percent protection against the virus, not even medical-grade masks, but any protection is better than none. That’s why we must also pair face coverings with social distancing.

The more distance we place between ourselves and others while wearing a mask decreases our chances of being exposed to the virus.

There’s no guarantee that you won’t contract the virus if you have to head outside of your home, even when you take all of the necessary precautions, but social distancing and wearing a mask are not mutually exclusive; social distancing is an additional safety measure to complement the use of a mask. We wear our seatbelt even though we know our car has airbags, and we set the alarm even though we know we have locked the doors because it adds an extra layer of protection. Wearing a mask and social distancing go hand-in-hand.

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