Time to encourage people to wear face masks as a precaution, say experts

April 09, 2020

It's time to encourage people to wear face masks as a precautionary measure on the grounds that we have little to lose and potentially something to gain, say experts in The BMJ today.

Professor Trisha Greenhalgh at the University of Oxford and colleagues say despite limited evidence, masks "could have a substantial impact on transmission with a relatively small impact on social and economic life."

The question of whether masks will reduce transmission of covid-19 in the general public is contested.

Although clinical trial evidence on the widespread use of facemasks as a protective measure against covid-19 is lacking, at the time of writing increasing numbers of agencies and governments, including the US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, are now advocating that the general population wears masks, but others, such as the World Health Organization and Public Health England are not.

Some researchers argue that people are unlikely to wear masks properly or consistently, and may ignore wider infection control measures like handwashing. Others say the public should not wear them since healthcare workers need them more.

But Greenhalgh and colleagues challenge these arguments and suggest that in the context of covid-19, many people could be taught to use masks properly and may well do this consistently without abandoning other important anti-contagion measures.

What's more, they say if political will is there, mask shortages can be quickly overcome by repurposing manufacturing capacity - something that is already happening informally.

They conclude that it is time to act without waiting for randomised controlled trial evidence.

"Masks are simple, cheap, and potentially effective," they write. "We believe that, worn both in the home (particularly by the person showing symptoms) and also outside the home in situations where meeting others is likely (for example, shopping, public transport), they could have a substantial impact on transmission with a relatively small impact on social and economic life."

In a linked editorial, Babak Javid at Tsinghua University in Beijing and colleagues agree that the public should wear face masks because the benefits are plausible and harms unlikely. And they say cloth masks are likely to be better than wearing no mask at all.

As we prepare to enter a "new normal," wearing a mask in public may become the face of our unified action in the fight against this common threat and reinforce the importance of social distancing measures, they conclude.

In an opinion piece, researchers recommend that health care workers should not be caring for covid-19 patients without proper respiratory protection, and that cloth masks are not a suitable alternative for health care workers.
-end-
Externally peer reviewed? No
Evidence type: Analysis, Editorial, Opinion
Subjects: People

Notes for editors

Analysis: Face masks for the public during the covid-19 crisis
Editorial: Covid-19: should the public wear face masks?
Opinion: Covid-19: Should cloth masks be used by healthcare workers as a last resort?

Journal: The BMJ

Link to Academy of Medical Sciences press release labelling system:

http://press.psprings.co.uk/AMSlabels.pdf

Link to analysis: https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1435

Link to editorial: https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1442

Link to opinion: https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2020/04/09/covid-19-cloth-masks-are-a-last-resort-for-healthcare-workers

BMJ

Related Transmission Articles from Brightsurf:

In the Netherlands, two-way transmission of SARS-CoV-2 transmission on mink farms
In the Netherlands, whole genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks on 16 mink farms has revealed virus transmission between human to mink, as well as from mink to human.

Study describes COVID-19 transmission pattern
Model developed by Brazilian researchers predicts spatial and temporal evolution of epidemic diseases and can help plan more effective social isolation programs with less socio-economic impact.

How to better understand what makes a virus win during transmission?
The framework, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, was applied on transmission data of the influenza virus, and offers to be a new tool for anticipating the consequences of microbial diversity and optimizing disease control measures.

Evaporation critical to coronavirus transmission as weather changes
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, it is increasingly urgent to understand how climate impacts the spread of the coronavirus, particularly as winter virus infections are more common and the northern hemisphere will soon see cooler temperatures.

Decorating windows for optimal sound transmission
Glass windows typically offer some amount of sound proofing, sometimes unintentionally.

New malaria transmission patterns emerge in Africa
An international study reveals how future climate change could affect malaria transmission in Africa over the next century.

Reducing transmission risk of livestock disease
The risk of transmitting the livestock virus PPRV, which threatens 80% of the world's sheep and goats, increases with certain husbandry practices, including attendance at seasonal grazing camps and the introduction of livestock to the herd.

Mouthwashes could reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission
Sars-Cov-2 viruses can be inactivated using certain commercially available mouthwashes.

Study reveals COVID-19 transmission rate on trains
A study by scientists from the University of Southampton has examined the chances of catching COVID-19 in a train carriage carrying an infectious person.

Defining paths to possible mother to child coronavirus transmission
UC Davis Health researchers took a critical step in defining the possible paths for SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19 to get transmitted from the mother to her newborn baby.

Read More: Transmission News and Transmission Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.