Muchaneta Chimuka Senior Reporter
According to a new modeling study, if enough people wore face masks, even homemade coverings, it would slow the transmission of COVID-19 and prevent further waves of infection.
New research suggests that widespread use of face masks can prevent a second wave of the pandemic.
All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.
Two mathematical models predict that the widespread use of facemasks in public combined with physical distancing or periods of lockdown provides a way to manage the pandemic and reopen the economy while reducing the risk of future waves of the pandemic.
The authors published their findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A.
The models, created by scientists at the University of Cambridge and the University of Greenwich in the United Kingdom, suggest that even homemade masks can dramatically reduce transmission rates, but only if enough asymptomatic people wear them.
People who have recently contracted SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, take time to develop symptoms — if they develop them at all. During this asymptomatic period, they can unwittingly transmit the virus to others.
When people touch contaminated surfaces and later touch their face, they can contract the virus via their mouth, nose, or eyes.
Transmission through the air happens when people inhale droplets loaded with the virus that a person with the virus expels when they talk, cough, or sneeze. This is most likely to occur in poorly ventilated areas where airborne droplets can accumulate.
In theory, even if face masks are not very good at protecting the wearer, they can prevent a person with the virus from transmitting it to others through the air.
Conclusive evidence has been lacking, however, and some research suggests face coverings are ineffective.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that people wear cloth face coverings in public, but only in situations where a person is unable to maintain physical distancing.
Similarly, on June 5, 2020, the World Health Organization reversed its earlier skepticism about face masks to advise that people wear them in public places where it is impossible to maintain adequate physical distancing.
In the United Kingdom., face coverings will be compulsory on public transport from June 15, 2020.
However, the new modeling study suggests that people should not restrict the wearing of masks to public transport and other places where they might find it difficult to maintain physical distancing.
“In the U.K., the approach to face masks should go further than just public transport,” says Professor John Colvin of the University of Greenwich, one of the authors. “The most effective way to restart daily life is to encourage everyone to wear some kind of mask whenever they are in public.”