Louise Dunn from Keswick is one of 20 new ‘Ask for Evidence Ambassadors’ across the UK recruited by the independent charity ‘Sense About Science’ and will be writing a column for the Keswick Reminder on topics suggested by readers for her to check out.
Coronavirus: Masking the problem?
Keswick is slowly returning to normal after the coronavirus lockdown. Shops are opening, accommodation providers are welcoming back guests and this weekend the town will be bustling once again with visitors. However, the coronavirus pandemic has not gone away and everyone is expected to take sensible precautions to protect themselves and others.
Encouraged by a local Facebook campaign set up by Cole Kelly called ‘About Face’, Keswick town council is encouraging all visitors and residents to wear face masks in the shops and town centre. There are many masks available; the Keswick Women’s Institute co-ordinated the making and distribution of face coverings to community volunteers and Alexandra’s clothes shop has raised £950 for the North Lakes Foodbank by selling facemasks made by Jenny Metson using fabric and elastic donated by Textures the fabric shop.
The UK Government also recommends cloth masks for the general public in some scenarios, but earlier in the pandemic, they didn’t. The shifting guidelines may have sowed confusion among the public about the utility of masks. So, what does the evidence say?
The claim: Face coverings reduce coronavirus transmission.
Evidence provided: Evidence is emerging all the time and the guidance has been updated to recommend face coverings as a result. A paper published in the Lancet in June did an analysis of all the studies to date which have looked at the efficacy of physical distancing, face masks and eye protection in preventing transmission of coronavirus. It found that no intervention offers complete protection, but they do reduce transmission. They estimated that when facemasks are used properly, the relative chance of infection fell by about 85% (although they said this figure may change as the studies were small). Two case reports also suggest that masks can prevent transmission in high-risk scenarios, in one case a man with COVID19 flew from China to Toronto wearing a mask and all 25 people closest to him on the flight tested negative for COVID19. In another case, in late May, two hair stylists with COVID19 had close contact with 140 clients. They all wore a mask and none of the clients tested positive.
Experts commenting on the evidence said that measures such as physical distancing are by far the most effective way to reduce spread of coronavirus, but that the research gave enough evidence to suggest that the public should be asked to wear face coverings on public transport in retail outlets and other indoor spaces even when physical distancing is in place.
Evidence assessment: The evidence supports the wearing of facemasks, but the certainty of that evidence is still low. Given the severity of CORVID19 it makes sense to err on the side of caution as the preliminary evidence suggests they work.
Was the claim supported by the evidence? Yes.
So what? If you can, wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance!
Write in to [email protected] with anything you would like Louise to look into, including the worst examples of misinformation you have found.
Louise Dunn is available to give virtual talks to community groups and schools who are interested in joining in the campaign to raise standards in public life.