International Research Journal of Public and Environmental Health

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Original Research Article

Efficiency of surgical masks as a means of source control of SARS-CoV-2 and protection against COVID-19

Md. Safiuddin*1 and M.A. Salam2

1Angelo DelZotto School of Construction Management, George Brown College, 146 Kendal Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M5T 2T9, Canada; Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science, Ryerson University, 350 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ontario M5B 2K3, Canada; Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, University of Windsor, 401 Sunset Avenue, Windsor, Ontario N9B 3P4, Canada.
2Department of Civil Engineering, Dhaka University of Engineering & Technology (DUET), Gazipur-1707, Bangladesh.

Corresponding Author’s E-mail: msafiuddin(at), safiq(at)

Tel.: 1-416-415-5000, ext. 6692

Md. Safiuddin

M.A. Salam

Article Number: irjpeh.20.025  |   Pages: 179-189  |   Vol. 7 (5), October 2020   |   DOI:

 Received: June 18, 2020  Accepted: August 4, 2020  Published: October 23, 2020


Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has badly impacted the public health, economy, and social life in the entire world. Healthcare professionals and community people are using surgical masks as a protective measure to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from entering the respiratory tract. This paper briefly reviews and discusses the source control mechanisms and protection efficiency of surgical masks against COVID-19. Scholarly articles, reports, and guidelines were searched to gather information regarding the performance of surgical masks. It has been found that they are not very effective to prevent the penetration of virus particles into the respiratory tract. More than 10% of the virus particles in the 10–80 nm size range can penetrate high-barrier surgical masks at a low inhalation flowrate of 30 L/min whereas it can be above 20% at a high inhalation flowrate of 85 L/min. The penetration level of virus particles could be extremely high (≥ 80%) for low-barrier surgical masks at both low and high inhalation flowrates. However, many studies implied that surgical masks can be used effectively as a means of source control to minimize the onward transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from symptomatic and pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic COVID-19 patients. They are useful to lessen the load of virus-bearing respiratory droplets (≥ 5 µm) and aerosols (< 5 µm) in the air if worn by infected people. Moreover, surgical masks can reduce the inward transmission of SARS-CoV-2 into susceptible persons although they are not as effective as respirators. Surgical masks can also be used along with other protective means such as physical distancing, face shields, and surgical N95 respirators to provide enhanced protection for the healthcare personnel looking after COVID-19 patients. Such uses of surgical masks would play a vital role to reduce the community transmission of COVID-19.


Aerosols, COVID-19, inward transmission, onward transmission, protection efficiency, respiratory droplets, SARS-CoV-2, source control, surgical masks.

How to Cite this Article

Efficiency of surgical masks as a means of source control of SARS-CoV-2 and protection against COVID-19. Int. Res. J. Pub. Environ. Health 7(5):179-189.

Author(s) retain the copyright of this article. Author(s) agree that this article remain permanently open access under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 International License.

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