While most experts strongly encourage everyone—even those showing no symptoms of COVID-19—to wear a protective face mask while out in public in order to prevent the spread, there are still people who refuse to do so. However, a new study offers evidence that mask-wearing can dramatically reduce the non-contact transmission rate of the highly infectious and potentially deadly virus.
According to researchers from the University of Hong Kong’s department of microbiology, in a soon-to-be-published study in the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, the COVID-19 transmission rate via respiratory droplets or airborne particles plunged by as much as 75% when face masks were used—with hamsters at least.
“In our hamster experiment, it shows very clearly that if infected hamsters or humans—especially asymptomatic or symptomatic ones—put on masks, they actually protect other people. That’s the strongest result we showed here,” Dr. Yuen Kwok-yung, a leading microbiologist from the university and leader of the study, explained.
Before you laugh: Researchers chose the rodents as the test subject due to their enzyme receptor similarity to humans. The hamsters were divided into two separate cages, one group that was healthy, and another that had been infected with the virus. The researchers then played out three separate scenarios. In the first, where mask barriers were placed over the cages holding the infected rodents, the second, masks only covering the healthy hamsters, and the third, which involved no masks at all. There was also a fan blowing virus particles between the cages, in order to ensure exposure.
In the third scenario, when no masks were used at all, ⅔—66.7%—of the hamsters were infected with COVID-19 within a week. When the barrier was placed over the cage housing the infected hamsters, the rate of infection plummeted to 16.7%. And, interestingly enough, when the masks covered the cages of the health hamsters, the infection rate fell to 33%—implying that wearing a face covering isn’t just doing your part to prevent spreading the virus to other people, if you are unknowingly carrying it, but you are also getting a decent amount of protection from others, as well.
Study authors also noted that the hamsters who did get infected despite there being a mask barrier, had less COVID-19 in their bodies to those who were maskless.
“The findings implied to the world and the public is that the effectiveness of mask-wearing against the coronavirus pandemic is huge,” Yuen said, according to South China Morning Post.
Yuen, who claims he has seen a drop in mask wearing in recent weeks, hopes his findings will motivate people to continue wearing masks when they are out in public — even as temperatures are increasing — in order to quell invisible transmission of the virus.
“I know wearing masks will be difficult during the summertime. My advice is especially when you are in an indoor or closed environment where there’s no free air exchange, in crowded places or on public transport, you must wear a mask,” he suggests.
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