LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A new but unproven theory suggests that face coverings could help build immunity against the coronavirus.
The theory is based on the idea of a “viral load,” or how much of the virus a person is exposed to.
“Until we get a vaccine, it’s (a mask) the best shot you have for not getting an infection,” said epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford with the University of California, San Francisco, one of the researchers behind the unproven, but promising idea which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month.
According to the theory, although a mask cannot prevent a person from getting COVID-19, it can cut down the amount of viral load a person is exposed to and prevent them from getting severely sick, Rutherford alleges.
“If you happen to get infected, and you’re wearing a mask, or the person who infects you is wearing a mask, you may well get infected with a lower dose, and have less severe disease,” Rutherford explains.
He argues that a low dose of the virus could still prompt your body to build immune cells that could stick around to fight off coronavirus if contracted again.
The researchers believe if masks can help drive up the number of asymptomatic people, it could be a way to create herd immunity as the world waits for a vaccine.
However, some people told CBSLA Thursday they were hesitant about the idea.
“I don’t know, I’ve heard a lot of different takes about wearing your mask: it doesn’t really do anything, compared to wearing it,” said one woman.
“Definitely, for things to go back to the way they were, I believe we just need more knowledge about this,” said another man.
“I’m ready for things to go back to normal, but if masks build immunity, than I’m all for it,” said a second man.
More data is still needed to prove if the research could in fact be true. Rutherford warns the theory is just that at this point.
“It’s not to say go out and get infected, (or that) you know the mask is going to give you some sort of protective immunity or anything like that,” Rutherford said. “Believe me, you don’t want this infection.”
Rutherford adds that this really should only be looked at as another benefit to wearing a face covering. He reminds people that measures like social distancing and good hygiene are required to fully protect yourself.