JUN 15, 2020 6:08 AM PDT

Research Shows Wearing a Face Mask Reduces the Risk of COVID-19 Infection

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

We've known that face masks can reduce the spread of COVID-19 because some infected people may not show symptoms, and if those individuals wear a mask, there is less of a chance that they will infect others. But now researchers have shown that face masks also reduce a wearer's chance of being infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. The findings, which also showed that the use of face masks has already significantly reduced infections in a number of places, have been reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (green) heavily infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (purple), isolated from a patient sample. Image from the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. / Credit: NIAID

Previous studies have suggested that when infected people expel droplets that contain infectious viral particles into the air, those particles can infect other people.

In this study, the researchers investigated how the virus is transmitted. "Our results clearly show that airborne transmission via respiratory aerosols represents the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19," said study leader Renyi Zhang, Texas A&M Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and the Harold J. Haynes Chair in the College of Geosciences.

When the researchers examined the spread of infections, they found that mitigation procedures had an important effect. Face mask usage in Italy between April 6 and May 9 reduced infections by over 78,000, and in New York City between April 17 and May 9, by over 66,000.

"By analyzing the pandemic trends without face-covering using the statistical method and by projecting the trend, we calculated that over 66,000 infections were prevented by using a face mask in little over a month in New York City. We conclude that wearing a face mask in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission," continued Zhang.

"This inexpensive practice, in conjunction with social distancing and other procedures, is the most likely opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. Our work also highlights that sound science is essential in decision-making for the current and future public health pandemics."

"Our study establishes very clearly that using a face mask is not only useful to prevent infected coughing droplets from reaching uninfected persons but is also crucial for these uninfected persons to avoid breathing the minute atmospheric particles (aerosols) that infected people emit when talking and that can remain in the atmosphere tens of minutes and can travel tens of feet," said study co-author and co-recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Mario Molina.

In China, the poor air quality has made mask-wearing common for many years, noted Zhang. "So people there are sort of used to this. Mandated face-covering helped China in containing the COVID-19 outbreak."

This study is a clear indication that masks are an essential part of the fight against this virus, Zhang said.

"Our work suggests that the failure in containing the propagation of COVID-19 pandemic worldwide is largely attributed to the unrecognized importance of airborne virus transmission," he said. "Social-distancing and washing our hands must continue, but that's not sufficient enough protection. Wearing a face mask as well as practicing good hand hygiene and social distancing will greatly reduce the chances of anyone contracting the COVID-19 virus."

Recent research has shown that masks are most effective at preventing COVID-19 transmission when they are worn properly - in other words, when there are no gaps that let air leak past the mask. Homemade masks that are worn correctly can be almost as effective as an N95 mask when they are made of a double layer of fabric. Learn more from the study that evaluated fabrics in ACS Nano.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via Texas A&M University, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
AUG 29, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Together, Two Gut Microbes Have a Nasty Effect
AUG 29, 2020
Together, Two Gut Microbes Have a Nasty Effect
The microbes in the human gut play important roles in our physiology, and they can also contribute to disease. But they ...
NOV 10, 2020
Microbiology
New Species of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever-Causing Bacteria is IDed
NOV 10, 2020
New Species of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever-Causing Bacteria is IDed
Ticks transmit the bacterial pathogen that causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF).
NOV 16, 2020
Microbiology
Using the Microbiome to Diagnose or Treat Autism
NOV 16, 2020
Using the Microbiome to Diagnose or Treat Autism
Autism is a complex disorder that has sent researchers searching for what is causing it, as the rates continue to rise. ...
NOV 17, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Antibiotics Before Age 2 Linked to Childhood Health Conditions
NOV 17, 2020
Antibiotics Before Age 2 Linked to Childhood Health Conditions
Researchers from Mayo Clinic have found a link between children aged two and under taking antibiotics and an increased r ...
NOV 22, 2020
Microbiology
The Mechanisms Underlying Rotavirus Infections are Revealed
NOV 22, 2020
The Mechanisms Underlying Rotavirus Infections are Revealed
Rotaviruses are the biggest reason why young children get diarrhea. It's estimated that 215,000 kids die every year from ...
NOV 28, 2020
Microbiology
Potential Treatment ID'ed for Emerging Viral Disease
NOV 28, 2020
Potential Treatment ID'ed for Emerging Viral Disease
A mosquito-borne virus called VEEV has been emerging in South America. It causes symptoms that make it difficult to dist ...
Loading Comments...