How effective are Facemasks at stopping the Spread of Coronavirus?

It has become compulsory in most countries in the previous months to wear a face mask in museums, galleries, cinemas, and worship places in England.

It has also become compulsory to wear a face-covering when visiting a supermarket, indoor shopping center, coffee shop, or even banks, in England, those who will fail to comply will be fined up to £100.

When most schools have reopened in September, the schools in the area of local lockdown were also obligatory to make the students and staff wear face masks in common areas or places where social distancing was hard to observe.

Different schools in other areas have not yet mandated the wearing of masks, but it can be decided to do individually.

Formerly, the law only required the face coverings to be worn on public transport nut it has now expanded to other public areas.

It follows months of ministers saying face coverings were unnecessary, despite the easing of lockdown and other countries introducing requirements.

Senior Conservative Minister Michael Gove was still saying that people should rely on “common sense” and should not be forced to wear them by the government.

In July, scientists have said that mask-wearing should be obeyed in all public places where it is hard to social distance, especially in crowds.

Can face masks protect its bearer?

The World Health Organization (WHO), Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA, and the UK Government have all shifted their position on wearing masks during the pandemic – these moving the guidelines may have given confusion as to their advantage.

Dr. Jake Dunning, head of Emerging Infections and Zoonoses (infectious disease spread between humans and animals) at PHE, said that there is “very little evidence of a widespread benefit” in public wearing masks.

He further elaborated that there are several reasons why it can be ineffective.

“Face masks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly, disposed of safely and used in combination with good universal hygiene behavior in order for them to be effective.”

At some time, experts were also keen to stress the need for frontliners to be wearing supplies of protective personal protective equipment (PPE), rather than the community.

However, since then, numerous studies have shown that wearing any face covering (not the surgical type, for it should be left to medical staff) over the nose and mouth can decrease the spread of the viral droplets when a person coughs or sneezes.

A report published in April said: “Face masks significantly reduced detection of influenza virus RNA in respiratory droplets and coronavirus RNA in aerosols, with a trend toward reduced detection of coronavirus RNA in respiratory droplets.”

In another study, a high-speed video that tracks droplets was used and found that even holding a washcloth over the mouth effectively blocked the droplets.

In June, an international report was published that showed analyzed data from 172 studies in 16 countries found that there is just a 3% chance of catching the infection by wearing a face mask. A study from Cambridge University, on the other hand, said that even homemade masks could reduce the transmission and can help prevent a second wave.

A conducted study by the University of Edinburgh also suggested that wearing a facemask can help reduce coronavirus spread from people who are carriers. The research has shown that wearing a covering over the mouth and nose can decrease the forward distance traveled by more than 90 percent by an exhaled breath.

Oxford University’s Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science published a study with a message saying:

“Cloth face coverings, even homemade masks made of the correct material, are effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 – for the wearer and those around them” and warned “face masks and coverings work – act now.”

Can this stop asymptomatic transmission?

The research broadly suggests that face masks can’t necessarily stop someone from catching COVID-19. Still, it can lessen someone’s chance of passing it on if someone is asymptomatically carrying and unaware of this (especially those not isolating at home).

The WHO also published a report that says masks did not prevent healthy people from picking up coronavirus, but it did help stop the spreading. It was based on a review of Hong Kong evidence that suggests widespread use of face masks may have reduced the spread.

The government’s DELVE (Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics group) in the Royal Society said in April:

“Face masks offer an important tool for managing community transmission of Covid19 within the general population. Our analysis suggests that their use could reduce onward transmission by asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic wearers if widely used, contrasting to the standard use of masks for the protection of wearers. If used widely and correctly, face masks, including homemade cloth masks, can reduce viral transmission.”

The government website agrees:

“The evidence suggests that face coverings can help us protect each other and reduce the spread of the disease if someone is suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms.”

A professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Jimmy Whitworth said that the benefit is mostly for others, and not on ones’ self: “They’re more beneficial if you have a virus and don’t want to pass it on than to prevent catching anything.” This verifies the WHO findings.

Professor David Heymann from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who chaired the WHO’s scientific and technical advisory group have agreed that unless people who work in healthcare settings, masks are “only for the protection of others, not for the protection of oneself” – this is why the government now makes them non-optional.

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