Masks significantly reduce infection risk, likely preventing thousands of COVID-19 cases -study

By Nancy Lapid
(Reuters) - A new study suggests that wearing masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in areas at the epicenter of the global pandemic may have prevented tens of thousands of infections.
Wearing masks is even more important to preventing the spread of the virus and the sometimes fatal COVID-19 disease it causes than social distancing and ordering people to stay at home, researchers said in the study published in PNAS : The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
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Infection trends changed dramatically when mask-wearing rules were introduced on April 6 in northern Italy and on April 17 in New York City, at the time most affected by the health crisis.
"This protective measure alone reduced the number of infections in Italy by over 78,000 from April 6 to May 9 and in New York City by over 78,000 from April 17 to May 9," the researchers calculated.
When mask wear came into force in New York, the daily new infection rate dropped by about 3% per day, researchers said. Daily new infections continued to increase in the rest of the country.
Direct contact arrangements - social distancing, quarantine and isolation, and hand disinfection - were all in place before mask and mask wearing rules came into force in Italy and New York City. However, they only help to minimize the transmission of viruses through direct contact, while the face covering prevents transmission in the air, the researchers said.
"The unique function of the face covering to block the atomization and inhalation of aerosols containing viruses explains the significantly reduced infections," they said. This would indicate "that airborne COVID-19 is the dominant route of infection".
The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday called on organizers of large gatherings to "shout, sing, or sing to strongly promote the use of fabric covers to reduce the risk of coronavirus spread".

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid in New York; editing by Bill Berkrot)

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