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0000017b-652b-d50a-a3ff-f7efb02e0000KPCW's COVID-19 news coverage for Summit County and Wasatch County, Utah. 0000017b-652b-d50a-a3ff-f7efb02f0000You can also visit the Utah Department of Health, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization websites for additional information.

Mask Study Shows Lives Can Be Saved


A Brigham Young University mask study shows the death rate from COVID-19 is reduced when masks are used while in public. There’s clear evidence that face coverings reduce the spray of droplets and therefore the incidence of disease transmission.

Wearing a face mask has become politicized in some media outlets and on social media. The original recommendations early in the COVID-19 pandemic, were to conserve PPE, such as face masks, for those who were on the front lines of the health crisis.

Dr. Benjamin Abbot is a professor of Plant and Wildlife Sciences in BYU’s College of Life Sciences. He says no funding was obtained to do the study and that a team of researchers from BYU’s Department of Environmental Sciences volunteered their expertise. There is clear evidence that the droplets produced while speaking, coughing or sneezing can project several feet and linger for hours, especially indoors.

“Organize my comments around a few different questions. First of all why is there so much confusion about masking? As the governor mentioned, initially we knew very little about this disease and the recommendations that came out of the CDC in the World Health Organization were based on old research, on other outbreaks. So, based on that previous research they recommended that masks would not be effective. Public masking would not be effective. However, since it's a rapidly evolving situation only months after the beginning of the outbreak studies started coming out that showed a very different picture.”

He says it is abundantly clear that masks are an essential tool at slowing the spread of COVID-19. The data shows that when masks are used, the disease is less deadly. They think a mask reduces the amount of viral load during transmission.

“One of the first clues that masks were effective came from the difference in the rate of spread and the mortality among different countries. Countries that either had a mask culture to begin with, so many countries in Southeast Asia for example, have long used masks to prevent the spread of disease, they had much lower transmission rates and substantially lower mortality rates.”

Abbott says the evidence for public masking is clear cut. He and his graduate students looked at multiple studies and field observations and found that wearing a cloth mask prevents 90% of the virus droplets from being dispersed.

“When someone is speaking, many tiny droplets are ejected out of their mouth and the breath of air that comes from their mouth and nose can carry those several feet away from them. Wearing a cloth mask, about 90% of those droplets are contained within the mask. So, this is what's called source control in public health. My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.”

Abbott says there are two reasons masks are so effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“First of all, COVID-19 is extremely contagious. Those droplets can linger in the air, they can land on surfaces and the virus can remain viable for minutes or up to hours. So long after someone exits a room, if they have the virus, those particles can remain. So keeping those droplets within the mask is really crucial.  The second reason, which in my opinion is more important, is the rate of asymptomatic spread of this disease. So, it's estimated that 50% or more of the new cases of COVID-19 are spread by people who are showing no symptoms.”

Abbott says he and his team wanted to respond to the social media claims that wearing masks is dangerous.

“So, we looked at all of the studies that have been cited by people making those claims and also did an exhaustive search of the literature. The conclusion was unanimous. Masks are completely safe for healthy individuals.”

He says the one medical concern about masks is that they give people a false sense of security. Masks are proven to work when used in combination with frequent hand washing, social distancing and quarantining when exposed to the virus.

“When those are used together, there is broad agreement and scientific unanimity that this could be our bridge back to normal, have huge economic payouts and could get this outbreak under control.”

The study is titled Making Sense of the Research on COVID-19 and Masks


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