Paired with Social Distancing, Wearing a Mask Can Greatly Reduce the Transmission of COVID-19

No measure by itself completely prevents the virus, but now there's evidence that face masks, social distancing and eye protection greatly reduce risk.

June 2, 2020, 3:33 PM CDT / Source: TODAY
By Maura Hohman

As experts fear that nationwide protests will set back the country's progress on slowing the spread of the coronavirus, new research offers some answers on the most effective ways to prevent COVID-19.

The first-of-its-kind study, published Monday in The Lancet, took a comprehensive look at measures used to slow the spread of this pandemic, as well as other coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS. It analyzed 172 studies from 16 countries and six continents.

While many of its findings, which support the efficacy of face masks, social distancing and eye protection, are already recommended by public health officials, this research is important because it replaces "anecdotes" with evidence-based "clarity," study co-author Dr. Derek Chu, a clinical scholar of medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, told TODAY.

"Even though people have made conjectures about, 'Should we wear a mask?' ... the problem has been that uncertainty," he said. "CDC is saying wear a mask, but other people have countered that very rapidly, saying, 'It's more harmful than good.''

Face masks greatly reduce transmission rates

The study looked at three measures separately: face masks, social distancing and eye protection.

To start, it found that, without a mask, social distancing or any other preventive measures, the risk of transmitting the coronavirus is 17.4%. Add a mask or respirator, and that number drops to 3.1%.

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