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High-Quality Masks Reduce Infections and Deaths in the US

By Erik Rosenstrom, Buse Oruc Aglar, Nathaniel Hupert, Julie S. Ivy, Pinar Keskinocak, Maria Mayorga, Julie L Swann

Posted 29 Sep 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.09.27.20199737

Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of widespread adoption of masks or face coverings to reduce community transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Methods: We created an agent-based stochastic network simulation using a variant of the standard SEIR dynamic infectious disease model. We considered a mask order that was initiated 3.5 months after the first confirmed COVID-19 case. We varied the likelihood of individuals wearing masks from 0-100% in steps of 20% (mask adherence) and considered 25% to 90% mask-related reduction in viral transmission (mask efficacy). Sensitivity analyses assessed early (by week 13) versus late (by week 42) adoption of masks and geographic differences in adherence (highest in urban and lowest in rural areas). Results: Introduction of mask use with 50% efficacy worn by 50% of individuals reduces the cumulative infection attack rate (IAR) by 27%, the peak prevalence by 49%, and population-wide mortality by 29%. If 90% of individuals wear 50% efficacious masks, this decreases IAR by 54%, peak prevalence by 75%, and population-wide mortality by 55%; similar improvements hold if 70% of individuals wear 75% efficacious masks. Late adoption reduces IAR and deaths by 18% or more compared to no adoption. Lower adoption in rural areas than urban would lead to rural areas having the highest IAR. Conclusions: Even after community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 has been established, adoption of mask-wearing by a majority of community-dwelling individuals can meaningfully reduce the number and outcome of COVID-19 infections over and above physical distancing interventions.

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