New York City, with a population of about 8.4 million, has had over 28,000 coronavirus deaths as of May 18. Meanwhile, Hong Kong has officially recorded only four Covid-19 deaths, despite having 7.5 million residents.
For the first time, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that even seemingly healthy people wear masks over their mouths and noses when venturing out of their homes into places where it is difficult to maintain distance from other people.
But there is still major debate over how much masks — particularly the homemade fabric masks that the CDC recommends for the public — can slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Masks look like an increasingly important way to curb Covid-19’s spread– Afromambo.com Team
It’s worth noting that most cities in the world implemented a strong testing, tracing, and isolation program, in addition to strengthening travel rules and closing bars at the end of March.
Those moves, perhaps just as much as masks, have helped keep coronavirus death toll low.
But the masks, research shows, are still very important.
In April, researchers from the University of Hong Kong and the University of Maryland found that masks stopped sick people from spreading Covid-19.
“A mask could catch a lot of the virus a sick person would otherwise be breathing or coughing out,” Ben Cowling, the head of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health and a co-author of the study, told the Wall Street Journal at the time. “Wearing them at least provides some protection for others.”
On May 13, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias also pointed out that in April, researchers at the University of Hong Kong and in Europe calculated that if 80 percent of a population can be persuaded to don masks, transmission levels would be cut to one-twelfth of what you’d have in a mask-less society. However, that study has yet to be peer-reviewed.
On Sunday, another team from the University of Hong Kong determined that the benefits of face masks were massive. Using 52 hamsters in cages, the team found that non-contact transmission dropped by around 75 percent when masks were present. “The findings implied to the world and the public is that the effectiveness of mask-wearing against the coronavirus pandemic is huge,” Dr. Yuen Kwok-yung told reporters.
It does appear, then, that masks are one of the top reasons why the coronavirus situation in Hong Kong isn’t so dire.
One wonders whether the rising number of cases and deaths in the US would be lower if Americans similarly adopted such widespread mask-wearing habits.
The bottom line, experts say, is that masks might help keep people with COVID-19 from unknowingly passing along the virus. But the evidence for the efficacy of surgical or homemade masks is limited, and masks aren’t the most important protection against the coronavirus.