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TRENDING SCIENCE: Masks reduce risk of getting Covid-19, most comprehensive study to date finds

New study supports face covering in successfully preventing coronavirus transmission.

© Woottisak, Shutterstock

On 5 June at a media briefing, the World Health Organization (WHO) called on nations to urge the public to wear fabric face masks where COVID-19 is spreading. “In areas with widespread transmission, WHO advises medical masks for all people working in clinical areas of a health facility, not only workers dealing with patients with COVID-19,” commented Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Second, in areas with community transmission, we advise that people aged 60 years or over, or those with underlying conditions, should wear a medical mask in situations where physical distancing is not possible. Third, WHO has also updated its guidance on the use of masks by the general public in areas with community transmission.” “WHO advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments,” added Dr Ghebreyesus. “Our updated guidance contains new information on the composition of fabric masks, based on academic research requested by WHO.” Such research was presented in the journal ‘The Lancet’ that reviewed different published studies. It found that physical distance and mask use are the two most effective methods to stop transmission. The team comprised of researchers at universities worldwide examined 172 observational studies in 16 countries across 6 continents, including studies in healthcare and community environments. The researchers investigated studies from COVID-19 outbreaks and viruses from the same family. One of the main findings revealed that the chance of transmission without a face mask or respirator was 17.4 %. This fell to 3.1 % when a mask was worn. “What we are encouraging is that in situations where you have intense transmission, in situations where you can not do physical distancing, that a fabric mask should be worn -- can be worn, should be worn -- it’s something that needs to be considered very seriously,” epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove and COVID-19 technical lead at WHO told ‘CNN’. “What we are trying to do with the guidance that we’re putting out is to provide some parameters on, if you’re going to use a fabric mask, here are the best fabrics that you can use based on the evidence that we have.”

Protective barrier

Overall, more research is required to establish how effective fabric masks are at preventing mask wearers from potentially spreading COVID-19 and protecting them from perhaps catching the virus. “The thing that needs to be understood about a mask is that it’s a barrier,” explained Dr April Baller, WHO medical officer in infectious prevention and control. “So it can be used both for a barrier for somebody who’s wearing it. It can be used as a barrier for somebody who’s looking at the person who’s wearing it.” The study emphasised that social distancing and masks don’t provide complete protection. Measures like hand washing are key to reducing transmission. “We need to be very, very, very careful that masks are not seen as an alternative to the other public health measures that are so desperately needed,” noted Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

Keywords

COVID-19, coronavirus, mask, face mask, transmission