#WeAreTogether: Scientists review evidence in COVID-19 facemask debate08 April 2020
University of Reading scientists are helping to guide the debate on scientific evidence around the use of facemasks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
One scientific article published in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday, discusses published studies on how effective face masks are at stopping viruses being transmitted.
With only incomplete scientific evidence available, but public health guidance required now, such expertise is critical to help guide scientists to properly inform governments and the public. The debate on wearing of facemasks is still live, and the article quotes two biological scientists from the University of Reading giving opposing thoughts on the usefulness of wearing masks in public places.
In response to a pre-print article analysing the evidence on respiratory diseases and the use of face masks, Professor Ian Jones, a virologist, argued anything that prevents droplets carrying the virus from entering a person’s mouth, even if some droplet do pass through the mesh, is helpful to some extent.
He said: “If an aerosol droplet hits the weave of the mask fabric rather than the hole it is clearly arrested. And lessening the aerosol dose chips away at the R0 [reproduction number] and helps to slow the epidemic.”
He adds: “They are not a cure but they address the longer flatter epidemic curve everyone is trying to achieve.”
However, Dr Simon Clarke, a cellular microbiologist in the same Reading department, countered this opinion by arguing mask wearing should not be encouraged because there was no evidence that it would protect the wearer from catching COVID-19.
He said: “There is only very limited evidence of the benefits of wearing face masks by the general public, no evidence that wearing them in crowded places helps at all, and no evidence at all yet related to COVID-19.”
Dr Clarke also pointed out that mass wearing of masks could cause a shortage for medical staff who genuinely need them, such as those on the front line in hospitals.