Face Masks: Fact or Fiction?

In times like these, plenty of misinformation and hearsay is floating around out there. Controversial claims spread like wildfire, or like COVID-19 itself (too soon?). Municipalities such as Savannah and Atlanta have required face mask use in public settings and around people outside of one’s household. Some praise this public health mandate; others have taken the opportunity to exercise their right to not wear a mask. The degree to which wearing a mask can be effective is also debated, as researchers have been working to identify substantial efficacy rates to support widespread compliance. It’s time to leave the comment section and look to credible sources for some truth. 


Here at South, we’ve examined a few points about facemask use and regulation that need clarification. After sifting through studies, infographics, posts, and reports, we’re here to reveal what’s fact and what’s fiction.


Fact or Fiction: The figures demonstrated in this widely circulated infographic:

Fiction. You may have seen this infographic while scrolling through your social feeds, perhaps multiple times on more than one platform. Clear and to the point, the graphic illustrates to what degree face masks are effective in certain scenarios. Unfortunately, the infographic was not produced by a credible source and does not use any study-produced data (as Snopes.com explains). That being said…


Fact or Fiction: There is scientific evidence that wearing a cloth face covering or mask reduces the spread of COVID-19.


Fact. However, until recently, studies were inconclusive or lacked a sufficient body of evidence. A new study by a team from Texas A&M University analyzing pandemic trends with and without the use of face coverings, they found via the statistical method and projection that more than 66,000 infections during the span of a month were prevented in New York City. Based on this statistical analysis, the team “conclude[s] that wearing a face mask in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission.” With this study, the public now has access to legitimate figures supporting widespread face mask use.


Fact or Fiction: It’s fine if the mask only covers your mouth, but not your nose – it works the same as if both your nose and mouth are covered. 


Fiction. The CDC describes that COVID-19 spreads primarily through airborne respiratory particles and that “[t]hese droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.” That is, mouth AND nose. Not one or the other, but both. While the effort is appreciated, it’s really all or nothing. Again for the people in the back, a face mask must cover your mouth and nose to be effective.


Fact or Fiction: The government can legally require citizens to use face masks in public.


Fact, usually. In a Law and Policy Analysis piece for the American Constitution Society, professor of law Polly J. Price and J.D. candidate Patrick C. Diaz at Emory University School of Law summarize the history of established legal precedent for requiring face coverings in the United States from local to federal level courts. Decisions in cases such as Jacboson v. Massachusetts and KOA v. Hogan have established legal precedent in the circumstance of requiring face masks for public health emergency reasons, separating it from First Amendment concerns and allocating it to the principle of self-defense as it pertains to public safety. 


The debate regarding the legality of mandating masks has landed Georgia politics in the spotlight on the national stage. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp essentially announced a ban on bans on Wednesday, July 15, forbidding local governments and businesses to require masks. Kemp went as far as to sue Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the city council to block the city's mask ordinance. Mayor Van Johnson of Savannah, Georgia was one of several mayors to speak out against Kemp's action, tweeting, "It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us. Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can. In #Savannah, we will continue to keep the faith and follow the science. Masks will continue to be available!" There are political theatrics, then there are numbers; COVID-19 continues to spread whether the governor sues mayors or not. The numbers are daunting: 130,794 total confirmed cases and 3,110 deaths in Georgia alone, where each day threatens a new record-high in reported new cases.  


But still, why not comply and wear a mask? A recent study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation says “if 95% of the US population always wore masks in public, more than half the deaths that are predicted between now and October 1 would be avoided.” In the interest of the health and prosperity of fellow Americans, the minor inconvenience (to an able-bodied person) of wearing a mask is a small sacrifice to make.