Face Masks Against COVID-19: An Evidence Review
Howard J., Huang A., Li Z., Tufekci Z., Zdimal V., van der Westhuizen H-M., von Delft A., Price A., Fridman L., Tang L-H., Tang V., Watson GL., Bax CE., Shaikh R., Questier F., Hernandez D., Chu LF., Ramirez CM., Rimoin AW.
The science around the use of masks by the general public to impede COVID-19 transmission is advancing rapidly. Policymakers need guidance on how masks should be used by the general population to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. In this narrative review, we develop an analytical framework to examine mask usage, considering and synthesizing the relevant literature to inform multiple areas: population impact; transmission characteristics; source control; PPE; sociological considerations; and implementation considerations. A primary route of transmission of COVID-19 is via respiratory droplets, and is known to be transmissible from presymptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. Reducing disease spread requires two things: first, limit contacts of infected individuals via physical distancing and other measures, and second, reduce the transmission probability per contact. The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces the transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected droplets in both laboratory and clinical contexts. Public mask wearing is most effective at reducing spread of the virus when compliance is high. The decreased transmissibility could substantially reduce the death toll and economic impact while the cost of the intervention is low. Given the current shortages of medical masks we recommend the adoption of public cloth mask wearing, as an effective form of source control, in conjunction with existing hygiene, distancing, and contact tracing strategies. Because many respiratory droplets become smaller due to evaporation, we recommend increasing focus on a previously overlooked aspect of mask usage: mask-wearing by infectious people ("source control") with benefits at the population-level, rather than mask-wearing by susceptible people, such as health-care workers, with focus on individual outcomes. We recommend that public officials and governments strongly encourage the use of widespread face masks in public, including the use of appropriate regulation.