In a new study, researchers suggest that governments and health agencies should reconsider the current guidelines with regards to widespread mask use in the COVID-19 pandemic and recommend that masks be worn by everyone.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Cambridge.
Increasing evidence suggests that SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may be commonly transmitted before individuals show symptoms.
The team argues that the potential benefits vastly outweigh the possible downsides linked to mask use.
Studies performed prior to the current emergency were of variable quality and didn’t take into account how likely individuals were to comply with wearing a mask.
The authors argue that in the midst of a pandemic, people are much more likely to follow guidelines.
The evidence for masks is no worse than other widely adopted and promoted behaviors, such as hand-washing, they say.
Even if masks are only 20% effective at reducing transmission, previous models for an influenza pandemic suggested that substantial numbers of cases may still be prevented.
Widespread education campaigns, such as those promoting hand-washing at present, could help ensure the masks are used properly and mitigate some of the concerns over their proper use.
Due to shortages of medical masks for our healthcare workers, the researchers recommend cloth masks for the public.
The evidence to support the use of masks in non-clinical settings may be limited, but the mass manufacture and use of cloth masks is cheap and easy, compared to the societal economic costs associated with isolation and social distancing measures.
The team says as people prepare to enter a ‘new normal,” wearing a mask in public may become the face of the unified action in the fight against this common threat, and reinforce the importance of social distancing measures.
The lead author of the study is Professor Babak Javid, a consultant in infectious diseases.
The study is published in BMJ.
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