Are face masks effective and should vaccinated people still wear face masks?
The wearing of face masks in enclosed public spaces has been voluntary now for over a month.
The UK was slow to embrace face masks. Prof Mills of Oxford University of Oxford says that advice was unclear and inconsistent in England, a country with no culture or history of mask wearing. Some Asian countries that had experience of the SARS epidemic adopted them sooner.
The UK also had limited supplies of PPE for health and care workers at the start of the pandemic. The Government pointed to a lack of proof that masks were effective against COVID19. That was true, but there was also a lack of proof of the effectiveness of social distancing, coughing or sneezing into elbows, or even quarantine against COVID. It’s common sense really.
Are face masks effective?
Over one year later the evidence is clear.
The Royal Society have calculated that even if face masks are only 75% effective, if everyone wore them the R number (reproduction rate) could be reduced from 4 to less than 1 without the need for lockdowns.
Studies agree that face masks prevent up to 80% of the droplets that we breathe out from circulating and about half of the droplets that we breathe in.
A study in Thailand found that wearing a mask in crowded indoor places reduced infection by 70%. A Chinese study (from a smaller sample) arrived at a figure of 79%.
The Lancet published a report based on data from 172 studies from 16 countries. It found that the chance of COVID infection could be reduced to as low as 3% through mask wearing.
Another study by Edinburgh University found that face masks (including homemade ones) reduced the distance travelled by air that has been breathed out by at least 90%.
There are a variety of types of face masks which vary in their effectiveness, and how well the mask fits the face also makes a difference. Masks with adjustable nose wires are more effective than those without. Washable masks remain effective after being washed.
Should vaccinated people still wear face masks?
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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance in July citing an increase in the Delta variant. It now says that vaccinated people should still wear masks in areas where the risk is of “substantial and high transmission”.
I think that would include public transport, shops and indoor events. It’s common sense really!
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