BYU report shows masks effective against COVID-19

A BYU professor and three students compiled data from over 115 studies to show that masks are an effective tool against the spread of COVID-19. (Hannah Miner)

A BYU research team found face masks to be an effective tool at limiting the spread of COVID-19 with only a few uncommon, mild side effects.

BYU professor Ben Abbott and three students — Mitchell Greenhalgh, Isaac St. Clair, and Jonas Bush — read 130 scientific studies and then used the data to produce a report that explains the studies’ findings in plain language.

“We found overwhelming evidence that masking could turn the tide on the pandemic,” Abbott said. “When public masking gets to 80% or higher, rates of COVID transmission and also the lethality of COVID infections drop sharply.”

The report said the researchers were motivated to do the study in order to “respond to the technical questions asked by friends and family.”

According to their findings, cloth masks “can stop 90% or more of the dispersal of droplets carrying the virus” spreading from an infected person to a non-infected person.

“We’d seen so many claims on social media about how dangerous masking was, that we were sure we’d find studies about suffocation, mildew, and other side-effects. Instead, we found a huge body of literature demonstrating how safe masks were,” Abbott said.

They found wearing masks comes with a few mild side effects — skin irritation, headaches and general discomfort — for children and adults. However, those under 2 years old or those with certain pre-existing conditions should not wear masks.

The studies also showed the risk of hypoxia, a decrease in oxygen, and hypercapnia, an increase in carbon dioxide, to be low. Those who disagree or refuse to wear masks often use their concerns about these two conditions as reasons to not wear a mask, but the researchers found that the studies these groups cite “misinterpret the medical evidence about masks.”

“To anyone who thinks wearing a mask does more harm than good, I would just say look at the research that is out there. Don’t just take things you hear on social media at face value,” student researcher Jonas Bush said. “In this case, it is super clear that face masks provide some essential benefits to reducing the spread of infectious diseases.”

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