This Is The Safest Face Mask For COVID-19 Prevention, Experts Say

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Alexandra Lozovschi

Mask-wearing has now been scientifically proven to be an effective means of preventing the spread of COVID-19, according to a new study that also looked into the safest face mask for coronavirus prevention.

The research, released on September 1 on the Innovations for Poverty Action website, examined the differences between cloth masks and surgical masks, as well as the importance of a few low-cost interventions to promote mask-wearing.

Keep reading to find out what's the safest face mask to impede COVID-19 transmission, according to experts.

Cloth Vs. Surgical Mask

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According to the study, which was released prior to its publication in a scientific journal due to its importance and urgency, surgical masks are better equipped to filter out contaminants and protect against the COVID-19 pathogen, which is caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Although cloth masks did reduce the overall likelihood of respiratory illness symptoms compared to not wearing a face mask at all, using a surgical mask was a lot more effective and lead to "significantly fewer COVID-19 cases," explained the study authors, who reported a 12 percent reduction in symptoms for surgical masks as opposed to just 5 percent for cloth masks.

"This aligns with lab tests showing that surgical masks have better filtration than cloth masks," said Standford Medicine, which led the study together with Yale University.

Study Results

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The research was a large-scale trial enrolling 350,000 people from 600 villages in rural Bangladesh, which were paired based on population size and density, as well as geographic location and available COVID-19 case data.

For each of the 300 pairs, one randomly assigned village received interventions to promote mask-wearing. One such example was having notable Bangladeshi figures (the prime minister, a star cricket player, and an imam) wear masks and explain why doing so was important. Another example was reminding unmasked individuals in public to put their masks on and to practice social distancing.

Two-thirds of the intervention villages received surgical masks, while the other one-third received cloth masks, per Standford Medicine.

The results showed that individuals in villages where mask-wearing was promoted were 11 percent less likely to develop COVID-19 than those who didn't receive interventions.

"The protective effect increased to nearly 35 percent for people over 60," Stanford Medicine said in a statement.

Mask-Wearing & Targeted Interventions

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The study revealed that having policies in place to promote mask-wearing played an important part in reducing the number of coronavirus infections. In villages with targeted interventions, 42 percent of people wore masks properly, compared to just 13 percent in the control villages.

"Our study is the first randomized controlled trial exploring whether facial masking prevents COVID-19 transmission at the community level," said Ashley Styczynski, one of the lead authors and an infectious disease fellow at Stanford.

"It’s notable that even though fewer than 50 percent of the people in the intervention villages wore masks in public places, we still saw a significant risk reduction in symptomatic COVID-19 in these communities, particularly in elderly, more vulnerable people," Styczynski added.

Study's Interventional Model To Reach Southeast Asia & Latin America Next

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According to Stanford Medicine, there were several reasons for conducting the study in Bangladesh. For one thing, in a densely populated country such as this one, physical distancing can be difficult, making mask-wearing paramount in dealing with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“We saw an opportunity to better understand the effect of masks, which can be a very important way for people in low-resource areas to protect themselves while they wait for vaccines,” said Laura Kwong, a former postdoctoral scholar at Stanford and assistant professor at the University of California-Berkeley. “So we collaborated with behavioral scientists, economists, public health experts, and religious figures to design ways to promote mask use at a community level.”

The interventional model used in the study is currently being scaled up to be used in Southeast Asia and Latin America, where it could reach tens of millions of people over the next few months.