Wearing a mask in public is a mandatory part of life in 2020. However, one in three South Africans don’t always reach for a face covering before they step out. A new study further contributes to growing research that face masks do indeed slow the spread of COVID-19, and should be implemented in daily life.

A study published by Occupational Medicine found that universal masking at a Massachusetts healthcare system led to a flattening followed by a decrease in the COVID-19 epidemic curve among healthcare workers while the infection rate continued to steeply rise in the surrounding community population.

Researchers at Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), a Harvard-affiliated community health system, and the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, conducted the study at CHA to explore the effect of universal masking at the health system and used the statewide population as a comparison or reference group.

Researchers compared the rate of COVID-19 cases between the CHA and Massachusetts residents for the period between March 17 to May 6. The CHA made mask-wearing mandatory on March 26, and Massachusetts implemented the rule of wearing a mask in public on May 6.

Prior to the study, COVID-19 infections were on the rise in both the healthcare system and the surrounding community. Before the mask mandate, the infection rate was almost identical for healthcare workers and the state’s general population, says the study.

The study found that infections among healthcare workers sharply decreased after the mandatory mask-wearing policy was instated, while community infections continued to rise and reach a peak in late April.

“We found clear benefits to universal masking for preventing infectious spread within the work environment,” said Harvard Medical School professor and division chief of occupational and environmental medicine at the Cambridge Health Alliance, Dr Stefanos Kales.

“Our findings suggest that universal masking policy should be implemented and maintained in health care settings as well as within indoor businesses when physical distancing and ventilation may be inadequate,” he added.

Also read: Refusing to wear a mask linked to antisocial behaviour

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