How accurate is that COVID mask chart on social media?

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DENVER (KDVR) — By now, you may have seen a chart online that claims to show how long it takes to transmit COVID based on what mask you’re wearing.

The chart shows transmission in as little 15 minutes with no mask, with more than a day’s worth of protection for people wearing N-95 masks. But how accurate is it?

“I think that those numbers, we have to take with a grain of salt,” said Dr. Lisa Maier, with National Jewish Health.

What the chart gets right: cloth masks aren’t great

Maier, chief of the Division of Occupational Health and Environmental Health Sciences, has seen a chart or two in her day. She says the now-viral chart fails to take into account vaccination status and other variables like how well someone’s mask fits.

Still, she says the general premise is a good reminder about how effective different masks are.

“It’s a good reminder that there’s a relative risk here,” she said. “A: being unmasked is a real problem. And B: The cloth masks really aren’t as good, and we can do better.”

This chart has been spread online and is made to show how long various mask models hold up against disease transmission.

The Problem Solvers found the chart was produced in the spring of 2021 for a task force involving a nonprofit healthcare worker’s association. 

Maier said the omicron variant, known to be more transmissible, likely makes the chart less accurate since it was produced last year.

At the end of the day, she said cloth masks often won’t cut it if you’re exposed to someone with COVID-19 for a long period of time.

“I’d say as this pandemic has gone on, and we’ve had more experience, the cloth masks aren’t as good,” she said. “Should we be providing better masks to the public? I think it would be great if more people had access to them.”

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