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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 severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission is still under debate. We show that variations in mask efficacy can be explained by different regimes of virus abundance and are related to populationaverage infection probability and reproduction number. For SARS-CoV-2, the viral load of infectious individuals can vary by orders of magnitude. We 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.
Cheng, Y., Ma, N., Witt, C., Rapp, S., Wild, P. S., Andreae, M. O., … Su, H. (2021). Face masks effectively limit the probability of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Science, 372(6549), 1339–1343. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abg6296