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Do NOT wear a Face Mask with a Valve

On April 3, the CDC announced the recommendation for Americans to wear cloth face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19. The CDC was careful to recommend “cloth masks” and not “medical-grade” masks for the general public, because the public health officials were concerned that Americans would rush out and start hoarding N95 and surgical masks, which would put healthcare workers at risk.

The rationale for the general public to wear a cloth face mask is for everyone to protect each other from each other’s exhaled droplets. I protect you and you protect me. When you breathe out, cough, sneeze, sing, or talk, you exhale droplets from your lungs. The moisture droplets from your lungs are smaller than you can see. If you are COVID-19 positive, the droplets include multiple COVID-19 viruses.

There are many asymptomatic people who have this terrible virus and who do not have any symptoms and do not realize that they are carriers of the virus. If you are COVID-19 positive, when you wear a mask, the droplets in your exhaled breath, cough, or sneeze will be STOPPED by the mask, and your droplets will not be released into the air around you. Very importantly, by wearing a mask made with tightly woven cotton fabric, you help to stop the spread of the virus via the air. You protect me, and I protect you.

However, if you wear a mask with a valve, your exhaled air goes right out the valve! The valve defeats the purpose of stopping the expelled droplets from your respiratory system, and if you are infected with the virus you would be spreading the virus. If you are wearing a mask with a valve, please stop, because you are not protecting anyone else!

The mask wearing policy is a critical public health strategy to stop the spread of COVID-19, but the mask should not have a valve that opens to release exhaled air!

With any airborne pathogen that attacks the respiratory system (and beyond), wearing a mask is a good strategy.  With COVID-19, mask wearing is even MORE IMPORTANT, because with COVID-19, an individual can display no symptoms, feel totally normal, and he or she can still be COVID-19 positive, and unknowingly spread the virus by simply breathing and talking. But the mask should not have a respirator valve because the person wearing the mask could unknowingly spread the virus.

In March, do you remember the NBA players who were surprised to be COVID-19 positive?  Healthy looking athletes from multiple teams were interviewed and verbalized their surprise. They had “NO symptoms” and they felt totally normal, but they tested positive when the NBA was administered a broad testing policy. The players, their coaches, the media, and the whole country was shocked.

However, since January, the healthcare community was aware of this risk. For many months, health experts like Dr. Fauci have known that children, teenagers, adults, as well as NBA players, can feel totally normal and still be a COVID-19 carrier.  Hence, EVERYONE should be wearing a mask, but not a mask with a valve.

Over the past several months, the US public health officials, the CDC, elected officials, and the American people have been learning in real-time the benefits of cloth face masks.  Other countries immediately required masks, and they have seen much lower numbers of confirmed cases and deaths. The evidence is clear and we all need to wear a cloth mask to help stop the spread in our country.

Consumers have sent emails asking whether we plan to add a “valve” to our cloth mask, because they see valves on cloth and N95 masks available online and in their communities.   

Here is the answer. NO. NO. NO! When you understand how the mask valves are designed, it is easy to understand the rationale for our emphatic NO answer.

  1. Mask valves are designed to allow exhaled air to flow out of the mask without passing through the cloth fabric, meaning that the air molecules and droplets flow directly out the valve opening. The valve opens when the person wearing the mask exhales and the air flows out of the mask – unfiltered! Valves were designed to improve the breathability by allow the exhaled air to flow freely - with the assumption that the person wearing the mask is healthy.
  2. However, in the new COVID-19 world, we know that asymptomatic individuals can unknowingly spread the virus, and hence, we are all wearing mask to protect each other. In the grocery store, in the workplace, at the hospital, in any public place…. Anyone wearing a mask should NOT be wearing a mask with a valve. This advice is especially true, if the individual is confirmed to be COVID-19 positive!

When you see someone at your office wearing a mask with a valve, please encourage them to visit this web page to learn more. If you have the opportunity to share this information with local public health professionals or anyone who could help to spread this important information, please do so. 

The general population and healthcare workers should not be wearing masks with valves (unless that mask is covered by another mask without a valve). One could argue that masks with valves should be banned from the market during this pandemic. The analysis that led the CDC and countries around the world to encourage or require masks is totally inconsistent with the functionality of the mask with a valve. We are hopeful that the CDC will update their advisory to clarify this important point.

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