Even though more than three years have passed since COVID-19 first surfaced and despite the fact that influenza outbreaks claim thousands of lives each year, it is still unknown with certainty if or to what extent the use of masks inhibits the spread of respiratory infections, found the 2023 Cochrane Review.
The Cochrane Review is the de facto evaluation of medical research meant to guide decisions about future healthcare. To determine whether physical treatments can aid in the control of these highly contagious infections, more than a dozen specialists examined 78 research studies, some of which involved more than half a million people from different parts of the world and were conducted years ago.
The researchers came to the conclusion that using a surgical or medical mask “probably makes little or no difference” to infections brought on by viruses like influenza or COVID. Even limiting the results to healthcare professionals or looking at more complex masks like N95s did not reveal any glaring differences for respiratory infections in general.
Nearly everyone in the world has stopped requiring people to wear masks to prevent COVID, while certain places still do, notably public transportation and healthcare facilities. Hong Kong is a significant exception, requiring people to wear masks at all times in public, including outside, with a few restrictions (such as when you are eating). The spot fine for breaking the law is HK$5,000 ($637).
Residents are growing weary of the policy. Wearing a mask and glasses is uncomfortable, especially during Hong Kong’s protracted, muggy summers.
However, the research’s findings are not entirely conclusive.
Some of the experiments examined were conducted prior to COVID when virus transmission and circulation were less severe. Many folks didn’t consistently wear their masks. Masks are a crucial tool because, according to additional studies, they can considerably lower COVID transmission rates, particularly in constrained indoor settings.
Health professionals nevertheless recommend that people wear masks to protect themselves, especially those who are at high risk. People who are most vulnerable would likely benefit if others took action to stop the spread if there was a considerable benefit.