WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — For several months now, we’ve all been urged to wear a mask to help slow the spread of COVID-19. But what exactly is that mask doing that is intended to protect others from the virus?

Health experts say mask wearing is not only a simple preventive measure but also an effective one. We spoke to a Geisinger infectious diseases expert about what exactly masks are doing to help keep you and others safe.

“As you talk, as you breathe, tiny microscopic droplets are emerging from your mouth and your nose,” said Stanley Martin, MD, director of infectious diseases at Geisinger.

Dr. Martin says masks help block those droplets which contain much more than the extracellular fluid we commonly call saliva.

“They will also contain high-density viral particles and if you’re within close enough range of somebody then you can inhale these droplets,” Dr. Martin said.

That respiratory spread range is considered six feet which is why health officials encourage us to practice social distancing. If an infected individual coughs or sneezes, those respiratory droplets are launched like a rocket spreading what Dr. Martin calls droplet nuclei.

“These are even smaller droplets. We’re talking less than five microns in size that will linger in the air, right. They will float in the air for an extended period of time and they can travel farther distances,” Dr. Martin said.

The danger of COVID spreading is more than just from inhaling those droplets.

“You’re touching the surface which these droplets just fell on and now you’re touching your face and so they are the vehicle of transmission from person to person,” Dr. Martin said.

Dr. Martin says many of us may have what he calls “COVID fatigue” and ignore safe practices acting like the virus doesn’t exist. He cautions us to reconsider.

“Until we get an effective vaccine and we can achieve herd immunity, we’re going to be dealing with this and the best way to deal with this is to mask up,” Dr. Martin said.

Dr. Martin says it’s important when you wear the mask that it covers both your mouth and nose. He also points out that the Asian culture adopted face mask wearing long before COVID-19 as an effective way to help prevent viral spread.