As many states across the U.S. begin to reopen after months of abiding by shelter-in-place orders, the six-feet social-distancing rule seems to be shrinking and we’re seeing fewer people use protective measures like face coverings.
Science has something to say about that: Not. So. Fast.
A recent study published in PNAS (Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) identified face coverings as the number one factor in reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The study authors investigated the trends in the spread of the pandemic from January through May in three key epicenters: Wuhan, Italy, and New York City. They then compared the various protective measures—like quarantining and wearing face coverings—used in these hot spots. After reviewing the virus trends and responses side-by-side, the researchers drew a couple of key conclusions.
Key Finding: Face Coverings Are Effective
First, researchers identified the use of face coverings as the absolute game-changer in preventing the spread of COVID-19. “This protective measure alone significantly reduced the number of infections by over 78,000 in Italy from April 6 to May 9, and over 66,000 in New York City from April 17 to May 9,” the researchers wrote. They even said that without face coverings, practices like social distancing were not effective: “Other mitigation measures, such as social distancing implemented in the United States, are insufficient by themselves in protecting the public,” they added.
However, the study authors did find a combo approach to be the most effective way to squash the virus. The winning combination, they said: the use of face masks in public, social distancing, quarantining, and contact tracing.
By comparing these hot spots’ safety protocols and their impact on the pandemic, the researchers also gained some insight into how the virus spreads. They concluded that the virus spreads primarily through airborne transmission, which means you’re more likely to become infected by breathing the virus in than, say, touching a contaminated surface. So, in addition to reinforcing the importance of continuing to wear face coverings for as long as the virus remains a threat, the study also helps to demystify the virus itself.
Ultimately, this research solidifies that wearing a face covering goes a long way in helping to keep ourselves and our communities safe.
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