Fact check: Masks are a coronavirus prevention method when used alongside other precautions 

Social media users have been sharing content online that questions why families must stay away from nursing homes if masks are effective. These claims are missing crucial context: masks are recommended in addition to and in conjunction with other methods such as social distancing in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Medical authorities have never said masks alone would stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Examples can be seen  here  and  here

The post reads: “If masks work, then let family back into hospitals and nursing homes to be with their loved ones. If they don’t work, get them off our children. Someone is lying…”

The claim questions why families cannot enter hospitals or nursing homes if they have masks under the assumption that masks alone prevent the spread of COVID-19. While masks help prevent the spread, they need to be combined with other prevention methods to reduce contagion.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) writes on its website: “Social distancing should be practised in combination with other everyday preventive actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks, avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands, and frequently washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.” ( here  ) 

COVID-19 spreads in near contact with others and masks are a barrier that helps prevent respiratory droplets from traveling further ( here ). Wearing a mask in addition to keeping a distance of six feet can lower the chances of the disease being spread. A full list of prevention measures can be found  here  . 

Social distancing effectively may be difficult in a crowded hospital or nursing home. Since older adults and those with existing medical conditions are considered at highest risk for severe illness, nursing homes and hospitals are restricting visits from family members and friends ( here ). In the United States, people aged 85 and above accounted for 31.7% of recorded COVID-19 deaths, while 79.3% of total COVID-19 deaths were among those 65 and older ( here  ). 

On the other hand, COVID-19 is rarely severe or fatal in children ( here ) but, like everyone else, they can transmit the coronavirus  ( here , which is why masks are recommended for children. More on recommended mask wearing by age group is visible  here  . 

Some states like New Jersey have begun allowing visitors to nursing homes in an outdoor space ( here  ) Other states like Texas allow visitors in nursing homes if there are no coronavirus cases among staff and residents. ( here  ) 

Following confusion over how masks protect people, the Atlantic reported in April on the benefits of wearing masks, which not only protect the individual but more importantly the people they come into contact with (  here  ). 

Research has shown that effective prevention methods such as mask wearing, and hand washing combined with social distancing “can be pivotal to achieving control over a COVID-19 epidemic.” ( here  ) 


Missing context. The CDC recommends social distancing in combination with other preventative methods such as wearing a mask, avoiding touching your face and frequent hand-washing.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here  .