A new study has come to the surprising conclusion that mask-wearing to protect against the novel coronavirus may actually increase infections. However, a closer look at the data reveals a commonality in the data that scientists believe is the reason behind the findings.
According to SciTech Daily, the study was conducted in a joint operation by the state of Vermont and public health researchers at the University of Vermont's Larner College of Medicine. The scientists followed adults living in the northwestern part of the state and combined their behavior with their COVID-19 test results. By analyzing the two data sets, researchers were able to see what contributed to becoming infected.
One of the things that had the highest correlation to infection was wearing a mask. The result may be a surprising one, considering that masks are required for many activities, such as entering stores and restaurants.
However, scientists suggested that there may be a reason behind the odd conclusion. They found that those wearing masks were also more likely to have more human interactions -- which was the biggest driver of contagion.
"When you wear a mask, you may have a deceptive sense of being protected and have more interactions with other people," explained Eline van den Broek-Altenburg, an assistant professor and vice chair for Population Health Science in the Department of Radiology at the Larner College of Medicine and the study's principal investigator.
"Messaging that people need to wear a mask is essential, but insufficient," she added. "It should go hand in hand with education that masks don't give you a free pass to see as many people as you want. You still need to strictly limit your contacts."
In addition, researchers found that those who wore masks did not as often adhere to social distancing guidelines, such as standing at least six feet away from others. Those who were most prone to forgetting to socially distance were those who lived in apartment buildings.
"If you live in an apartment, you're going to see more people on a daily basis than if you live in a single-family home, so you need to be as vigilant about social distancing," said van den Broek-Altenburg.
The study also found that a large number of people had unknowingly been infected by the coronavirus. The team estimated that the reported cases in at least one county in Vermont were only one-fifth of the likely total.
The findings come as the United States continues to grapple with a second wave of the disease, which has infected around 24 million Americans and claimed close to 400,000 lives.