At the time of writing, 107,000 people have died COVID-19-related deaths in the US. New cases are decreasing, but not at a quick enough rate.
As states across the US begin to emerge from lockdown the question posed is “how can we continue to flatten the curve?” Well, the evidence suggests that to get COVID-19 cases to fall, we must continue practicing social distancing and wearing masks. Let’s investigate.
US Cases vs Asian Cases
In parts of Asia, face masks have been a common sight for decades. Originally favored for their ability to fend off germs and pollutants, masks are now widely used in crowded places such as public transport and grocery stores.
These Asian territories continued wearing masks throughout the pandemic and their case numbers are significantly lower than those across the US. Vietnam, a country of 95.54 million people, has only had 328 confirmed cases and of those, zero people have died. Japan, has seen under 17,000 cases and South Korea just over 11,000. In contrast, the US has reported 1.85 million cases to date.
These numbers are even more impactful when you consider that Vietnam was only in lockdown for three weeks, or that Japan has been business as usual with public transport and entertainment venues still open to customers. Japanese citizens have consistently practiced social distancing, but that alone wouldn’t have allowed the country to be so successful in keeping case numbers down.
The per-capita case difference between the US and these Asian countries is vast, and it seems that the use of face masks has impacted these numbers in a very significant way.
COVID-19 Cases Could Fall by 80% if We Wear Masks
In the US, we are unaccustomed to wearing face masks and in the past, there has been widespread stigmatization of East Asian people living in America that choose to wear them.
Many public figures have been vehemently anti-mask since the coronavirus pandemic first broke out. Many have refused to wear a mask and other politicians and policy-makers have continued to argue the efficacy of face masks. Some have even argued that making masks mandatory is an attack on our liberty and even our right to free speech.
And there are some legitimate concerns surrounding wearing masks. The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concerns that people won’t wear masks properly or that they might give citizens a false sense of security which could increase risky behavior.
However, according to research conducted by UC Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, COVID-19 cases could drop to approximately one-twelfth of the number of infections if Americans used face masks. This is compared to a situation where nobody wears masks.
If upwards of 80% or 90% of the population complies, countless lives could be saved. However, if only 30-40% wear masks there is almost no benefit at all. Looking at these figures, it’s clear to see that we should be wearing masks and should also be advocating for our family and friends to do the same.
Growing Support for Mask-wearing
Current estimates state that 40-80% of COVID-19 infections occur from asymptomatic people, and we know that droplets from the mouths of infected people are a major mode of transmission. These two facts together are enough evidence for many people to see the benefits of wearing masks, and as the pandemic has progressed the use of masks has become more prevalent. As of April, around half of US citizens were wearing masks. But, that doesn’t come close to the 80% compliance that we need to protect our communities.
Masks are also beneficial for the economy. While the world waits for a vaccine to be developed, face masks are making it safer for people to work, go outside, and generally regain some sense of normality. The use of masks is also integral to the re-opening of businesses, which is why many US states have made them mandatory in various public settings.
The modeling that this study is based on has been widely praised for its thoroughness and many of the globe’s infectious disease experts seem to agree: wearing face masks during an outbreak of an infectious disease is very, very important.
Still not convinced that face masks can help flatten the curve and reduce infections? Check out this video which explains more about the virtue of masks.
It’s important to note that masks aren’t foolproof. Staying safe and avoiding infection also requires proper hygiene and careful social distancing.