The widespread use of face masks and other face coverings could be the thing that keeps the coronavirus R number below 1 and prevents further waves of infection, new research suggests
A new modelling study from the universities of Cambridge and Greenwich indicates that lockdowns on their own will not be enough to stop the resurgence of COVID-19 and could be the answer to preventing further waves of the virus.
Researchers have said that even homemade masks with limited effectiveness will be able to dramatically reduce transmission of the coronavirus if worn by enough people, regardless of whether they show symptoms.
This comes after a World Health Organisation scientist has said that The chances of people who have contracted COVID-19 but show no symptoms of the virus infecting others is “very rare”.
Dr Richard Stutt lead author of the study and part of a team that usually creates models to analyse the spread of diseases within crops at Cambridge’s department of plant sciences, said: “Our analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of face masks by the public.
“If widespread face mask use by the public is combined with physical distancing and some lockdown, it may offer an acceptable way of managing the pandemic and re-opening economic activity long before there is a working vaccine.”
COVID-19 is transmitted to others through airborne droplets that get exhaled by infectious people, particularly when coughing, sneezing or talking.
For this latest modelling, researchers worked to link the dynamics of the spread of the coronavirus between individuals with population-level models, to analyse different ratios of face mask adoption combined with different periods of lockdown restrictions.
According to the study, 100% adoption of face masks combined with on-and-off lockdowns to occur periodically, would prevent any further resurgence of COVID-19 for the 18 months required for a possible vaccine to be found and mass-produced.
This comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested that localised lockdown restrictions could be put in place to prevent flare-ups of the coronavirus in the future.
The models suggest that, although the sooner, the better, a national policy of 100% adoption of face coverings can still work to prevent a second wave of the virus even if this policy is not put in place until 120 days after an epidemic begins.
Researchers on the study say that masks that only capture 50% of exhaled coronavirus droplets would still reduce transmission enough to provide a “population-level benefit”.
Professor John Colvin, coauthor from the University of Greenwich, said:
“There is a common perception that wearing a face mask means you consider others a danger. In fact, by wearing a mask you are primarily protecting others from yourself.”
“Cultural and even political issues may stop people wearing face masks, so the message needs to be clear: ‘my mask protects you, your mask protects me’.”
“In the UK, the approach to face masks should go further than just public transport. The most effective way to restart daily life is to encourage everyone to wear some kind of mask whenever they are in public”