Wearing a mask to reduce the spread of COVID-19 was found to reduce the number of new infections by 53%, according to new research compiled by a team that analyzed the results of several related studies worldwide.
The new findings, published Thursday in the “British Medical Journal,” focused on studies related to pandemic precautions, such as washing hands, wearing masks and taking physical distancing.
Such public health measures are known to be beneficial in combating respiratory infections, including influenza. But a lack of proper research in this space “is a pandemic tragedy,” researchers argued in a linked editorial.
The team noted that only 4% of global research funding for COVID-19 has been spent on public health measures.
Nearly all of the studies analyzed by the team were observational and conducted in Asia, the US, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South America and Australia. A total of 72 studies met the team’s criteria — 35 of which evaluated individual public health measures and 37 assessed multiple public health measures.
Results from eight of the 35 studies focusing on individual public health measures were analyzed in detail, indicating a 53% reduction in new COVID-19 cases from wearing masks, according to the authors.
In one study in 200 countries, there were nearly 46% fewer COVID-19 deaths where mask-wearing was required, according to the authors. Another study in the US reported a 29% reduction in new COVID-19 cases in states where masks were mandatory.
The research team, which includes public health and infectious disease specialists in Australia, China and the UK, said they could not assess the impact of the type of face mask worn, such as a cloth face covering compared to a surgical mask. to evaluate. They also were unable to analyze the frequency of mask wearing or overall compliance with wearing them due to a lack of data.
FILE – A sign reminds travelers to wear a face mask inside the international terminal at Logan International Airport (BOS) in Boston, Massachusetts, on Nov. 8, 2021. Photographer: Allison Dinner/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Of the five studies assessing physical distancing, the research team found a 25% reduction in the number of new COVID-19 cases. One study in the US showed a 12% decrease in virus transmission, while another study in Iran reported a decrease in COVID-19 mortality, the authors wrote.
Washing hands was also found to have a substantial reduction in COVID-19 cases of up to 53%. But the team noted that the results were not statistically significant after adjusting for the small number of studies included.
The team noted other studies that found declines in COVID-19 cases linked to other public health measures, such as quarantines, broad lockdowns and border closures.
But the team was unable to draw conclusions about some of these measures “because the number of empirical studies was insufficient,” the researchers wrote. They added that some of the stricter measures “have a greater impact on economies and the health of the population”, which should also be heavily considered.
The team concluded that the findings are consistent with other research conducted during the pandemic, indicating that washing hands, wearing a mask and physical distancing can reduce the spread of COVID-19. They also added that more research is needed “to assess the effectiveness of public health measures after adequate vaccination coverage is achieved.”
“Further management of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to depend not only on high vaccination coverage and its effectiveness, but also on continued adherence to effective and sustainable public health measures,” they concluded.
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This story was reported from Cincinnati.