An evidence review of face masks against COVID-19

  • Connexions
  • Thu, 14 Jan 2021 14:50:21 GMT
  • 878

The science around the use of masks by the public to impede COVID-19 transmission is advancing rapidly. In this narrative review, we develop an analytical framework to examine mask usage, synthesizing the relevant literature to inform multiple areas: population impact, transmission characteristics, source control, wearer protection, sociological considerations, and implementation considerations. A primary route of transmission of COVID-19 is via respiratory particles, and it is known to be transmissible from presymptomatic, paucisymptomatic, and asymptomatic individuals. Reducing disease spread requires two things: limiting contacts of infected individuals via physical distancing and other measures and reducing the transmission probability per contact. The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected respiratory particles in both laboratory and clinical contexts. Public mask wearing is most effective at reducing spread of the virus when compliance is high. Given the current shortages of medical masks, we recommend the adoption of public cloth mask wearing, as an effective form of source control, in conjunction with existing hygiene, distancing, and contact tracing strategies. Because many respiratory particles become smaller due to evaporation, we recommend increasing focus on a previously overlooked aspect of mask usage: mask wearing by infectious people (“source control”) with benefits at the population level, rather than only mask wearing by susceptible people, such as health care workers, with focus on individual outcomes. We recommend that public officials and governments strongly encourage the use of widespread face masks in public, including the use of appropriate regulation.

Policy makers need urgent guidance on the use of masks by the general population as a tool in combating severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the respiratory virus that causes COVID-19. Masks have been recommended as a potential tool to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic since the initial outbreak in China (1), although usage during the outbreak varied by time and location (2). Globally, countries are grappling with translating the evidence of public mask wearing to their contexts. These policies are being developed in a complex decision-making environment, with a novel pandemic, rapid generation of new research, and exponential growth in cases and deaths in many regions. There is currently a global shortage of N95/FFP2 respirators and surgical masks for use in hospitals. Simple cloth masks present a pragmatic solution for use by the public. This has been supported by most health bodies. We present an interdisciplinary narrative review of the literature on the role of face masks in reducing COVID-19 transmission in the community.

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