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Q: Do masks really work to prevent COVID-19? Which works best, cloth masks or medical masks?

Yes, masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The science is clear, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other governing health agencies recommend that most people over the age of two wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Cloth and medical masks both meet this recommendation and work by containing the respiratory droplets of the wearer. This prevention measure helps to stop the spread of COVID-19 from a positive individual, symptomatic or asymptomatic, to those around them. Cloth and medical masks catch and contain the respiratory droplets of an infected person who sneezes, coughs, sings or even laughs loudly, allowing for most of the virus containing droplets to be caught by the mask and not spread to surfaces or those around them.

Multilayer cloth masks do provide an adequate level of protection in a community setting by attempting to contain the source and protecting the wearer. This is why masks work best when everybody wears them, not just those at high risk. Current studies have shown that while medical masks do have a higher level of filtration, cloth masks are still acceptable to be worn if you are out and about in public places like the grocery store.

Health experts recommend that cloths masks be at least 2 layers thick and worn over the mouth and nose while secured under your chin to provide adequate source control. The CDC does not recommend masks with vents or exhalation valves or using a face shield as a substitute for a face masks as neither of these devices is effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Because a cloth mask has not been designed and proven to be equally effective as a medical mask or N95 respirators, health experts and government agencies continue to recommend appropriate use of medical grade masks and respirators while in the health care setting.

At all Maui Health facilities, employees, providers, patients and any of the limited visitors are provided with a medical grade mask before entering the building. Some employees in non-clinical settings do also choose to wear a cloth mask under their medical mask.

Here at Maui Health, we want to take the time to remind and urge our community to degerm your hands frequently, observe social distancing recommendations, and follow our Maui County mask mandate and wear a mask anytime you are out in public, or even if needed in your own home if you have guests from outside your household.

Wearing a mask is a very crucial prevention measure and we need everyone to be accountable to help stop the spread of COVID-19. For more information on current Maui County mask mandate, visit

Kelly Catiel
Infection Control Manager, Maui Health