LONDON (Reuters) – Population-wide facemask use could push COVID-19 transmission down to controllable levels for national epidemics and could prevent further waves of the pandemic disease when combined with lockdowns, according to a UK study published Wednesday.
The research, led by scientists at Britainâ€™s Cambridge and Greenwich Universities, suggests lockdowns alone will not stop the resurgence of the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, but that even homemade masks can dramatically reduce transmission rates if enough people wear them in public.
â€œOur analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of facemasks by the public,â€ said Richard Stutt, who co-led the study at Cambridge.
He said the findings showed that if widespread mask use were combined with social distancing and some lockdown measures, this could be â€œan acceptable way of managing the pandemic and re-opening economic activityâ€ long before the development and public availability of an effective vaccine against COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
The studyâ€™s findings were published in the â€œProceedings of the Royal Society Aâ€ scientific journal.
The World Health Organization updated its guidance on Friday to recommend that governments ask everyone to wear fabric face masks in public areas where there is a risk to reduce the spread of the disease.
In this study, researchers linked the dynamics of spread between people with population-level models to assess the effect on the diseaseâ€™s reproduction rate, or R value, of different scenarios of mask adoption combined with periods of lockdown.
The R value measures the average number of people that one infected person will pass the disease on to. An R value above 1 can lead to exponential growth.
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