Mask Use Does Not Give False Sense of Security

Study finds mask-wearers are vigilant with hand hygiene

July 29, 2020

As some people continue to resist wearing masks to protect against COVID-19, they have offered many reasons to explain their reluctance. Facilities that require patrons to wear masks may worry that people believe their face coverings are so effective they can be lax on other safety measures, such as frequent handwashing. However, a study published in BMJ analysis found this was not the case.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge and King’s College London in the United Kingdom examined 22 systematic reviews that looked at the impact of wearing masks on respiratory viruses. Among these reviews, they found six randomized trials that also looked at hand hygiene.

The researchers were testing the theory of risk compensation, which is the idea that people adjust their behavior to maintain the risk level they are comfortable with. For example, people looking to maintain their weight may believe they can eat large meals if they exercise longer or bicyclists may think they can ride at a reckless speed if they wear a helmet.  

However, the trial results suggested that wearing masks did not reduce the frequency of handwashing or hand sanitizing. In fact, people in the trail who were part of the mask-wearing group reported higher rates of handwashing.

The researchers believe that one precautionary behavior, such as wearing masks, may actually remind the wearer to perform other safety-related actions, such as washing their hands, reinforcing the entire list of behaviors needed to reduce transmission of the coronavirus.

Find more information on cleaning and other behaviors to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

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