As people become tired of wearing masks and fight quarantine fatigue into the summer months, new evidence says that the efforts of surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic don’t go unnoticed: It actually helps significantly reduce the rate of virus transmission.
A team of scientists from Hong Kong found that wearing surgical masks can reduce the non-contact transmission of the deadly COVID-19 virus by as much as 75% when masks are used.
The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, was conducted by the department of microbiology at The University of Hong Kong. It’s slated to appear in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
“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, a leading microbiologist from Hong Kong University, said via CNBC.
Yuen and his researchers experimented on hamsters, where groups were divided into two cages. One group was infected with the virus, the other was healthy. Researchers ran three separate experiments on the hamsters: The first involved no surgical masks placed between cages, the second had a surgical mask placed closer to the healthy hamsters, and the third experiment placed a mask closer to the infected hamsters.
In the experiment involving no barriers, two-thirds (66.7%) of the healthy hamsters were infected with the virus a week later. However, the infection rate drastically dropped to 16.7% when a mask was placed over the infected cage.
That drop wasn’t the same when a mask barrier was used to cover the healthy hamsters’ cage only – the infection rate rose to 33% in that scenario.
Researchers said that the hamsters who were still infected even with a mask barrier had less of the virus in their bodies compared to those infected without masks.
“In our hamster experiment, it shows very clearly that if infected hamsters or humans — especially asymptomatic or symptomatic ones — put on masks, they actually protect other people,” Yuen said in a press conference, according to Sky News.
“That’s the strongest result we showed here. Transmission can be reduced by 50 percent when surgical masks are used, especially when masks are worn by infected individuals.”