Mask wearing has been on the rise in recent months as experts have stated that masks provide a critical barrier that can help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. While at the start of the pandemic, there were concerns that physicians and healthcare workers did not have access to enough personal protective equipment (PPE), the potential impact of such a deficit was speculative. Now, data have accumulated that help to clarify the role that masks play in the health of those who continue to practice medicine during the COVID-19 outbreak.
A new research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) stated that data collected from a healthcare system that includes12 hospitals in the Boston area has shown that mask wearing amongst healthcare workers is associated with lower levels of positive COVID-19 tests. These data were based on the habits of nearly 10,000 healthcare workers who were also tested for COVID-19 using an RT-PCR test.
According to the author of the letter, healthcare workers who were tested before mask interventions were implemented displayed an increase in positive COVID-19 tests. Specifically, positive testing rates increased from 0% to over 21% during the pre-intervention phase of COVID-19. On the other hand, once mask wearing became universal at these hospitals at the end of March, the rate of positive tests declined. At the start of the intervention phase, the positive test rate was 14.65% and declined to 11.46%.
Experts are pointing to these data to support the need for masks in hospitals and beyond. They argue that masks are an effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in contexts in which social distancing is difficult or impossible. They also call for innovation in mask development to increase the comfort of masks so that people are more willing to wear masks and wear them for longer periods of time.
Brooks, J.T., Butler, J.C. & Redfield, R.R. (2020). Universal masking to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission – The time is now. JAMA, doi:10.1001/jama.2020.13107