Hyderabad: Throughout the Covid pandemic, the usefulness of masks in reducing Covid-19 infections has been hotly contested. While public health experts in Telangana have campaigned for the use of masks, a large-scale population-based study conducted by Oxford academics in the United Kingdom may just persuade naysayers.
Researchers from Oxford's Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science published a population-based study on the usefulness of masks in BMJ Open on October 25, finding that those who used masks had considerably reduced rates of Covid-19 infection.
The study, titled "Factors affecting adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions for Covid-19 infections in the first year of the pandemic in the United Kingdom," from May 10, 2020, to February 2, 2021, researchers looked at 4,09,009 nose and throat swab tests from 72,866 households for 1,00,138 people aged 18 to 64. They found that 'wearing a face covering or mask outside the home consistently and significantly predicted lower infection before the 2020 Christmas period and among women'.
One of the study's researchers, Dr Melinda C Mills of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford in Oxford, UK, was cited on the Oxford University website. "Lack of compliance to Covid behavioural measures has often been positioned as an attitude or choice. Yet there are large groups of people who, due to their household or employment circumstances, cannot follow measures to work from home, engage in physical distancing at the workplace or avoid public transportation. This, in turn, means that they have a higher exposure to becoming infected," Dr Melinda said.
"The inability for some groups of people to follow behavioural interventions exacerbates existing health inequalities and we showed that face coverings are one measure that can mitigate this unequal exposure," the researcher explained.
"Using a very large individual and household sample and Covid swab tests, we showed that the inability for certain groups, such as women in large households or those working in occupations where it is hard to maintain physical distancing were protected from infection during key periods in 2020 in the UK," Prof. Mills adds.
For individuals who were the most unable to comply with NPIs, the protective impact of wearing a facial covering/mask was the highest. Younger people and women in big homes had higher infection rates. The study revealed that wearing a facial covering or mask outside the home regularly and significantly predicted reduced infection before the 2020 Christmas season, particularly among women.