According to their research, wearing face coverings can actually put populations at a comparable risk of not wearing them at all because wearers develop a “deceptive sense of being protected.”
Moreover, participants involved in the analysis who regularly wore masks visited adults and disproportionately affected communities more frequently than those who did not, and thus transmitted the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) more frequently to said communities. The authors also determined those who live in apartments express higher infection rates than those who live in houses.
“Messaging that people need to wear a mask is essential but insufficient. It should go hand in hand with an education that masks don’t give you a free pass to see as many people as you want. You still need to strictly limit your contacts,” Eline van den Broek-Altenburg, the study’s principal investigator, explained.
The most pressing takeaway concerns company size; even if you’re wearing a double-layer cotton face covering, an N-95, or any of the blade runner masks currently making market waves, it’s important to limit the number of people you interact with per day. This is true even if you have no reason to suspect that you’re infected. Even the best masks don’t filter out 100% of viral debris.
Although the exact number of coronavirus particles needed to make a person ill is unknown, public health officials posit that the process may work accumulatively—as evidenced by the White House outbreak back in October.
“This study surveyed 1694 patients between April 30 and May 13, 2020, about their work and living situations, income, behavior, sociodemographic characteristics, and pre-pandemic health characteristics,” the authors wrote in the new paper.
“This data was linked to testing data for 454 of these patients, including polymerase chain reaction test results and two different serologic assays. Positivity rate was used to calculate approximate prevalence, hospitalization rate, and infection fatality rate (IFR). Survey data was used to analyze risk factors, including the number of contacts reported by study participants. The data was also used to identify factors increasing the number of daily contacts, such as mask-wearing and living environment.”
The data was collected, reviewed, and presented by health economists and public health faculty at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, jointly with public health officials for the state of Vermont.
Roughly 2% of the study sample contracted SARS-CoV-2, which indicates about 3,621 became ill, compared with the 662 cases actually reported. (18%). This additionally translates to a hospitalization rate of 1.2% and an adjusted infection fatality rate of 0.55%.
Automatic carriers—which may account for 40% of positive cases—are playing a huge role in diminishing the effectiveness of face coverings.
“If you only test symptomatic patients, you’ll never be able to find out how many people have already had the virus. With our random sample study we were able to show that Vermont has so far only tested less than one-fifth of the people who have likely had the virus. To capture the larger population, random samples of the population are needed so we can also capture asymptomatic patients, which appears to be the majority of COVID-19 cases.”
Recent reports contend that SARS-CoV-2’s life cycle may resemble the common cold in a post-vaccine world. If that ends up being true, it’s important that the general public keeps up to date on all of the factors that contribute to communal outbreaks.
“Studying prevalence in an asymptomatic population revealed estimates of unreported COVID-19 cases. Occupational, living situation, and behavioral data about COVID-19–protective behaviors such as wearing a mask may aid in the identification of nonclinical factors affecting the number of daily contacts, which may increase SARS-CoV-2 exposure,” the authors concluded