Revisiting the Protective Value of Barrier Face Coverings After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Theodore J. Witek Jr, DrPH; James A. Scott, PhD; John R. Balmes, MD


Am J Public Health. 2022;112(6):846-849. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The core public health measures of handwashing, wearing face masks (recently reclassified as "barrier face coverings," or BFCs),[1] and avoiding crowding through physical distancing proved their value as we awaited the development and global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.[2–4] These practices demanded significant attention in the professional community as well as by the public regarding their utility, optimal practice, and duration to foster public health in various, evolving scenarios.

The COVID-19 pandemic represented a crisis for both the professionals who strived to give guidance and the public who tried to interpret its value relative to social and economic sacrifices. More specifically, what have the months of pandemic taught us for the future as we slowly try to make the world safer? Physical distancing, initially termed social distancing, will slowly return to a quasi-normal level. Hand hygiene vigilance will hopefully not atrophy, but rather become an elevated norm. Face masks, a daily part of our lives throughout the current pandemic, can be relegated to the wastebasket.

But should they really?