How often do you wear a mask? Is it all the time you venture into the outside world or only in crowded spaces? It's hard to know when masks should be worn and sometimes we wonder if they really do work.
Now, a new study led by a Texas A&M University professor has found that not wearing a face mask significantly increases the chances of being infected by the COVID-19 virus.
Renyi Zhang, Texas A&M Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and the Harold J. Haynes Chair in the College of Geosciences, and colleagues from the University of Texas, the University of California-San Diego, and the California Institute of Technology examined the chances of COVID-19 infection focusing on how the virus passes from person to person.
The researchers used trends and mitigation procedures in China, Italy, and New York City to estimate that using a face mask reduced the number of infections by more than 78,000 in Italy from April 6-May 9 and by over 66,000 in New York City from April 17-May 9.
“Our results clearly show that airborne transmission via respiratory aerosols represents the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19,” Zhang said. “By analyzing the pandemic trends without face-covering using the statistical method and by projecting the trend, we calculated that over 66,000 infections were prevented by using a face mask in little over a month in New York City. We conclude that wearing a face mask in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission."
“This inexpensive practice, in conjunction with social distancing and other procedures, is the most likely opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. Our work also highlights that sound science is essential in decision-making for the current and future public health pandemics.”
Zhang added that his team's results, published in the current issue of PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), should send a clear message to people everywhere that wearing a face mask is crucial in fighting COVID-19.
“Our work suggests that the failure in containing the propagation of COVID-19 pandemic worldwide is largely attributed to the unrecognized importance of airborne virus transmission,” he said. “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.”