Surprise! Mask Wearing Substantially Lowers COVID-19 Rates

There is an unmistakable pattern.
Brad Bergan
The photo credit line may appear like thisKsenia Shestakova / iStock

Researchers found a statistical link between high adherence to mask-wearing and lower rates of COVID-19 throughout the United States, according to a study recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Mask-wearing is a major factor in lowering COVID-19 rates

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, different states in the U.S. executed disparate policies on mask-wearing, some of which didn't mandate masks at all, while others made them necessary in every public space. Studying the link between mask adherence and COVID-19 rates might help policymakers effectively mitigate stress on healthcare systems, assuage economic instability, and even prevent death.

Charlie Fischer and colleagues at the Boston University School of Public Health in Massachusetts wrote the recent study — which aims to clarify the effects of mask-wearing via analyzing publicly available data on policies related to mask-wearing. The data also included people's self-reported mask-wearing habits, in addition to COVID-19 rates throughout all 50 U.S. States and Washington, D.C.

States showing the lowest adherence rates saw the greatest likelihood of surging COVID-19 rates the following month — an unmistakable pattern. The eight states with at least 75% adherence to mask-wearing guidance saw an average COVID-19 rate of 109.26 per 100,000 residents the following month — but the average COVID-19 rate more than doubled for states with less than 75% adherence, to 239.99 per 100,000.

This latest analysis lends new evidence to the idea of mask-wearing as a major factor in reducing COVID-19 rates. This also means top-down policies and public health moves to lower the spread of COVID-19 infections should always center on improved mask-wearing adherence in every state.

mask-wearing is crucial amid COVID-19 variants

This comes on the heels of an earlier finding from the CDC — which said wearing an additional cloth mask over a surgical mask to form a second layer substantially increases the protective capacities for both wearers and bystanders. The study was first announced during a White House briefing on the coronavirus — where officials emphasized a need for people in the U.S. to wear "a well-fitting mask" with at least two layers, according to a report from the New York Times.

With the mounting threat of some coronavirus variants — especially in light of some vaccines' potential ineffectiveness — masks are the only tried-and-true way of lowering the risk of infection with certainty. "With cases, hospitalizations and deaths still very high, now is not the time to roll back mask requirements," said Director CDC Rochelle P. Walensky, in the Times report. "The bottom line is this: Masks work, and they work when they have a good fit and are worn correctly."

We're in year two of a global pandemic, and it's unclear if or when the COVID-19 coronavirus will subside this year. Even with the vaccine rollout, it's important, as always, to keep vigilant in closed, public spaces — follow mask-wearing guidelines, and consider doubling-up on masks. Because even if you've received a vaccine, there's no guarantee you've immunity to an already existing or novel mutation of the virus.


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