The following is excerpted from a report released through the BYU College of Life Sciences. To read the full report, CLICK HERE.
Scientific evidence can be difficult to interpret under the best of circumstances. During a global pandemic (and election year), it is no surprise that there is public confusion about what measures can effectively protect families and communities from COVID-19. Because the scientific and medical understanding of this disease is advancing so rapidly, we decided to put together a plain-language summary of the science on face coverings—a.k.a. masks. As lifelong residents of Utah County and scientists, we felt a responsibility to respond to the technical questions asked by friends and family. We did not receive any funding to carry out this work, nor do we plan on seeking financial support on this topic (our BYU lab mainly researches water and air pollution: benabbott.byu.edu).
Our four-person team compiled and read over 115 scientific studies on COVID-19. These studies were done by independent groups from all around the U.S. and the world. In the paragraphs below, we have done our best to accurately reflect the scientific evidence, pointing out where it is solid and where there is still uncertainty. There are three sections, with increasing levels of detail: 1. An executive summary, 2. A list of common questions, and 3. A deep dive. We hope this summary is useful to you as you decide what is best for your family and as our community decides how best to face this threat together.
- In the first few months of the pandemic, there was scientific uncertainty about the usefulness of public masking. Conflicting guidance was given by several official sources1–3.
- There is now convincing evidence from multiple controlled experiments4–6 and field observations7–11 that wearing masks reduces the transmission of COVID-19 for healthcare workers and the public. Most of this evidence is COVID-19 specific and has emerged in the past few months1,7.
- Masks prevent infected people from spreading the virus to others by trapping the respiratory droplets (tiny moisture particles) that are produced when we cough, speak, and breathe10,12,13. Cloth masks can stop 90% or more of the dispersal of droplets carrying the virus12,14. There is some evidence that cloth masks also protect the wearer from infection7,8, though this is less certain.
- Masks are highly safe, with only minor and uncommon side effects1,15,16. In addition to many medical studies, public masking has been proven safe among children, adults, and the elderly in cultures where this practice has long been common10,17. However, some sensitive individuals should not wear masks, such as those with severely compromised respiratory systems18 and individuals who cannot remove or adjust their own masks (children under 2 and people with severe disabilities)13.
- Researchers from hospitals, universities, the private sector, and government agencies have concluded that masks could be one of the most powerful and cost-effective tools to stop COVID-19 and accelerate the economic recovery1,4,5,9,10,17. There is universal agreement, however, that masking alone will not be enough to stop the pandemic. Masking is most effective when combined with physical distancing, frequent handwashing, rapid testing, and coordinated contact tracing1,7,19.
To read the full report and see the references from above, CLICK HERE.