All throughout the pandemic, the concept of wearing masks to protect ourselves and others from the COVID-19 virus has come to be politicized and sometimes mocked, some genuinely believing they do not work at all and are just employed by the government as some sort of control scheme!
However, a massive new study proves once, and for all that, surgical masks are very efficient in preventing the spread of the virus!
This real-time study was conducted by researchers in Bangladesh and involved no less than 350,000 people!
While it is not the first scientific study that proves masks are key to lessening the spread significantly, it is one of the biggest and comes amid an increase in skepticism.
This is because, at the start of the pandemic, officials advised citizens not to wear, or rather, not to hoard, masks only for them to seemingly change their minds later on and impose a nationwide mask-wearing rule!
As a result, anti-maskers still reference this as a reason why they do not trust this requirement, but in reality, it makes a lot of sense!
Back then, officials requested for people not to wear masks as a way to avoid a shortage in hospitals where they were most needed.
Soon after, as the virus spread more and more and the production and import of masks increased, the public was strongly advised to start using them when outside their quarantine zones.
Hopefully, this study released earlier this week, which has been grabbing a lot of attention, will manage to convince as many people as possible that masks are efficient and necessary.
After all, this study led by Innovations for Poverty Action Bangladesh is the biggest of its kind and concluded that masks could indeed greatly limit the transmission of COVID-19.
It sounds like the results will create a sense of urgency when it comes to distributing masks in as many communities as possible all over the world, now more than ever, as the much more contagious delta variant is spreading rapidly.
Stephen Luby, MD, professor of medicine at Stanford and a co-author of the study, stated in a new press release that: “We now have evidence from a controlled trial that mask promotion increases use of face coverings and prevents the further spread of COVID-19. This is the gold standard for evaluating health interventions. Importantly, this approach was also designed to be scalable in lower and middle income countries struggling to get or distribute vaccines against the virus.”
As for how the study was conducted, we know that 350,000 people from 600 villages in rural Bangladesh were assigned to a number of interventions promoting surgical masks randomly.
The results show that the people living in those villages where mask-wearing was being promoted were 11% less likely to contract COVID-19 than villagers from control villages where the practice was not promoted, and free masks were also not provided.
The study lasted for eight weeks and in the case of people over the age of 60 in villages where mask-wearing was promoted, the likelihood of getting the virus was reduced even more – 35%!
The strategies consisted of: reminding people to wear masks while out in public, providing masks for free, informing citizens how important wearing them correctly is (by covering both nose and mouth), and more!
In the intervention groups, these strategies raised the mask wearer percentage to 42%, while the control villages had only a bit over 13% of the population wearing them properly.
Lead author Ashley Styczynski, MD, MPH, and an infectious disease fellow at Stanford University stated in a news release that: “Our study is the first randomized controlled trial exploring whether facial masking prevents COVID-19 transmission at the community level. It is notable that even though fewer than 50% of the people in intervention villages wore masks in public, we still saw a significant risk reduction in COVID-19 in these communities, particularly in elderly, more vulnerable people.”
The authors also stressed that there has been a misunderstanding in the United States that masks are less than 10% effective when that is not the case!
What that means is that the risk is reduced by that percentage which is actually high and would be even more so if everyone would agree to wear them.
About this, Luby mentioned that “Unfortunately, much of the conversation around masking in the United States is not evidence-based. Our study provides strong evidence mask wearing can interrupt the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. It also suggests filtration efficiency is important. This includes the fit of the mask and the materials from which it’s made. A cloth mask is sure still better than nothing. But now, it might be a good time to consider upgrading to a surgical mask.”