A new Oxford study from the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science has concluded that face coverings should be worn by everyone to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The study found that: “Next to hand washing and social distancing, face masks and coverings are one of the most of widely adopted non-pharmaceutical interventions for reducing the transmission of respiratory infections.”

The study investigated the effectiveness of different varieties of face masks coverings, including surgical and handmade types. It also compared policies regarding face masks internationally and studied behaviours surrounding usage.

Professor Melinda Mills, author of the study, said: “The evidence is clear that people should wear masks to reduce virus transmission and protect themselves, with most countries recommending the public to wear them. Yet clear policy recommendations that the public should broadly wear them has been unclear and inconsistent in some countries such as England.

“There is a general assumption that countries such as the UK, which have no culture or history of mask wearing, will not rapidly adopt them. But this just doesn’t hold when we look at the data. As of late April, mask-wearing was up to 84% in Italy, 66% in the US and 64% in Spain, which increased almost immediately after clear policy recommendations and advice was given to the public.”

However, not all face coverings are equal. Coverings which are loosely woven, such as scarves, are the least effective.

Professor Mills explained: “The general public does not need to wear surgical masks or respirators. We find that masks made from high quality material such as high-grade cotton, multiple layers and particularly hybrid constructions are effective. For instance, combining cotton and silk or flannel provide over 95% filtration, so wearing a mask can protect others.”

The study also concluded that clear and consistent policies, along with public messaging, are key to the adoption of face masks and coverings by the public.

Image created by Laura Makaltses for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives.