Airborne transmission by droplets and aerosols is important for the spread of viruses. Face masks are a well-established preventive measure, but their effectiveness for mitigating SARS-CoV-2 transmission is still under debate. In this article the authors show that variations in mask efficacy can be explained by different regimes of virus abundance and related to population-average infection probability and reproduction number. For SARS-CoV-2, the viral load of infectious individuals can vary by orders of magnitude. They find that most environments and contacts are under conditions of low virus abundance (virus-limited) where surgical masks are effective at preventing virus spread. More advanced masks and other protective equipment are required in potentially virus-rich indoor environments including medical centers and hospitals. Masks are particularly effective in combination with other preventive measures like ventilation and distancing.
Yafang Cheng, Nan Ma, Christian Witt, Steffen Rapp, Philipp S. Wild, Meinrat O. Andreae, Ulrich Pöschl, Hang Su. Face masks effectively limit the probability of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Science. Published Online20 May 2021. DOI: 10.1126/science.abg6296