August 10, 2020

Why Masks Matter

by Eloise Todd, Co-Founder Pandemic Action Network

The Pandemic Action team has released a briefing on Why Masks Matter, detailing the growing evidence that wearing a mask or face covering can help slow the spread of the disease and save lives – especially when paired with handwashing, social distancing and when governments introduce effective test and trace policies. Until we have widely available treatments or a vaccine for COVID-19, it is up to every one of us to step up and do all we can to help beat this disease.

The evidence is piling up as to the effectiveness of mask-wearing. Masks are effective because they block large droplets from the wearer of the mask before they become aerosolized. New evidence also shows that mask wearing can reduce the amount of viral load that is passed on – lessening the severity of the impact of the disease on others .

Mask-wearing protects the people around you – my mask protects you and yours protects me, and there is increasing evidence masks help protect the wearer too. So, who should wear a mask, and when? We believe that to fight this pandemic as swiftly and effectively as possible, mask wearing needs to become the new normal. Here’s why:

First, people may have COVID-19 without knowing it. Studies show that people infected with COVID-19 may start to be infectious 1-3 days before the onset of their symptoms and they could even be most infectious in the 24 hours before symptoms appear. This underlines how important it is to wear a mask even when we’re feeling fine—plus some people may never show symptoms, but still have the ability to infect others.

Second, the effectiveness of universal masking could be comparable to that of a societal lockdown. Without the enormous economic, social, health and educational costs of closed workplaces, schools, and public spaces and limited geographical mobility. Mask-wearing is a complementary measure to other measures taken by governments, but right now huge decisions that are affecting everyone’s lives, education and livelihoods are being taken often before universal masking and other behaviours have been made policy and communicated widely. Modelling report cited in our brief shows that if everyone wore a mask, we could diminish the scale and the impact of COVID-19 swiftly.

Third, countries are starting to feel the benefits. An Oxford University study found that in countries where face coverings have been introduced as a national policy (often but not always alongside other measures), transmission rates fell in the subsequent days.

For all these reasons and more, we are calling for clear, comprehensive guidance on mask-wearing in public spaces. Our recommendations call for governments to make mask-wearing mandatory in public as well as properly enforce mask-wearing,  communicate the benefits of mask-wearing to the public, ensure mask supplies for healthcare and other frontline workers while also encouraging the public to wear face coverings.We also ask that they lead by example and wear a mask themselves. We call on businesses to adopt and implement mask-wearing policies and for everyone, everywhere, to don a mask when they leave their home. This simple measure can work if enough of us take collective action, wherever we are around the world.

Get involved, get your mask on, take a selfie and tag your friends to share widely. This is how we can help get this disease under control – together we can beat this if we #WearAMask, this #WorldMaskWeek and every week.