Wearing a face mask 'greatly reduces the chance' of contracting Covid-19: study

Research suggests that wearing a mask, social distancing, quarantine and contact tracing, all provide an opportunity to stop the pandemic

17 June 2020 - 08:07 By AFP Relaxnews
Wearing a face mask in public is an effective way of preventing the spread of Covid-19, according to new research.
Wearing a face mask in public is an effective way of preventing the spread of Covid-19, according to new research.
Image: Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash

New US research has found that wearing a face mask can significantly decrease a person's chance of becoming infected with the Covid-19 virus, and even when used alone is more effective at preventing the spread of the virus than other protective methods. 

Led by the Texas A&M University, the new study analysed mitigation measures such as wearing a mask and social distancing that have been implemented in three epicentres of the Covid-19 virus — Wuhan, Italy and New York City — between January 23 to May 9, 2020.

The researchers found that even when used alone, wearing a mask significantly decreased the number of infections, reducing the number in Italy by over 78,000 from April 6 to May 9, and by over 66,000 in New York City from April 17 to May 9.

However, the findings, which are published online in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), showed that other mitigation measures, such as social distancing, were insufficient at protecting the public when used alone.

The team noted that although social distancing is beneficial for preventing direct contact transmission of the virus, it is insufficient for protecting against the small virus-spreading respiratory droplets that are released when a person coughs, sneezes, speaks or breathes, unless a face mask is also being worn.

They concluded that wearing a face mask in public appears to be the most effective way of preventing virus transmission, and that when used in conjunction with other methods such as social distancing, quarantine and contact tracing, provides an opportunity to stop the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Our study establishes very clearly that using a face mask is not only useful to prevent infected coughing droplets from reaching uninfected persons, but is also crucial for these uninfected persons to avoid breathing the minute atmospheric particles (aerosols) that infected people emit when talking and that can remain in the atmosphere tens of minutes and can travel tens of feet," said Mario Molina, one of the study's authors.

Researcher Renyi Zhang also added that many citizens in China have already been wearing face masks for years, mainly because of the high pollution levels in the country. "So people there are sort of used to this," he said. "Mandated face-covering helped China in containing the Covid-19 outbreak."

"Our work suggests that the failure in containing the propagation of Covid-19 pandemic worldwide is largely attributed to the unrecognised importance of airborne virus transmission," he continued.

"Social distancing and washing our hands must continue, but that's not sufficient enough protection. Wearing a face mask as well as practicing good hand hygiene and social distancing will greatly reduce the chances of anyone contracting the Covid-19 virus."