27 August 2020 (New York) – As scientific understanding of COVID-19 has evolved, the importance of mask-wearing has become clear. Studies now show that people without symptoms and people early in the course of their illness can spread COVID-19, making masks a critical tool in prevention. Today Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, released a new report, “Promoting mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic: a policymaker’s guide,” to help communities design and implement evidence-based strategies to promote widespread and correct use of masks.
“When we all wear masks, we are all safer. Masks are among the cheapest, simplest, most effective ways for countries to fight this virus and get the economy running again,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, former CDC Director and President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies. “Masks matter. Except in a few places, mask-wearing is the ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable future.”
In addition to synthesizing evidence on how masks reduce the risk of transmission, the new report identifies best practices for mask design and use. Not all masks protect equally. Surgical masks are highly effective, but three-layered cotton and cotton blend masks can also provide protection.
The report also explains the importance of measuring and monitoring community-wide use of masks and conducting research to understand differing rates of adherence. The results let officials know when and where to focus their community engagement and education activities. In Philadelphia, for example, weekly monitoring of mask use has been associated with a steady increase in the proportion of people wearing masks correctly.
The report also reviews best practices to promote mask wearing, including mandates, focused and rigorously designed and evaluated media campaigns, and community engagement.It also lists reasons why people might not wear masks, including lack of understanding of risk, perceived social stigma, unsupportive social norms, distrust in government, lack of access and lack of reinforcement.
“We want to empower government officials and community leaders with a practical guide to support widespread mask adoption from people in their communities,” said Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President for Policy, Advocacy and Communication at Vital Strategies. “We know that mask–wearing is widespread and, in most communities, has grown in response to the threat of COVID-19. To improve masking rates, governments need data to identify why and where some populations aren’t masking consistently. With evidence and empathy in hand, governments can design effective programs that leverage media campaigns, regulatory powers, and working with community leaders to bring mask usage as close to 100 percent as possible. When communities mask up, we bring deaths and harm down.”
The report, which will be kept updated with the latest research on PreventEpidemics.com, cautions that widespread use of masks must be part of a package of measures that also includes closure of indoor spaces when appropriate, protecting health care workers and health care facilities, physical distancing, hand–washing, ventilation, strategic testing, rapid isolation, complete contact tracing, and supportive quarantine.
“We welcome this guidance on adoption of masks at a community level,” said Dr Da Costa Aboagye, Director of Health Promotion, the Ghana Health Service. “As we saw in Ghana, effective observational studies on mask use improved our ability to identify gaps in our policies and messaging, strengthening our response to the virus.”
Read the complete report here.
Christina Honeysett, Vital Strategies: [email protected]; +1.914.424.3356
Erin Sykes, Resolve to Save Lives: [email protected]; +1.646.612.0001
About Dr. Tom Frieden
Dr. Tom Frieden is former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and former commissioner of the New York City Health Department. He is currently president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, a global health initiative. Resolve is part of Vital Strategies, and works with countries to prevent 100 million deaths and to make the world safer from epidemics. Follow Dr. Frieden on Twitter @DrTomFrieden and LinkedIn.
About Resolve to Save Lives
Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of the global health organization Vital Strategies, focuses on preventing deaths from cardiovascular disease and preventing epidemics. Resolve to Save Lives is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gates Philanthropy Partners, which is funded with support from the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation. Resolve received additional funding for the COVID-19 response from these donors and Start Small Foundation, CDC Foundation and Stavros Niarchos Foundation. It is led by Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To find out more, visit: https://www.resolvetosavelives.org or Twitter @ResolveTSL.
About Vital Strategies
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.