A recent article from Medscape UK claimed that masks are ineffective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, citing a study that found little impact of mask-wearing policies in hospitals on the Omicron variant (Medscape UK, 2023). However, the study it references only examined the hospital setting, which tends to expose healthcare practitioners to higher concentrations of viral particles and illness (Spilchuk, Arrandale, & Armstrong, 2022). Additionally, the study did not account for variables such as compliance with mask-wearing policies, the type of masks worn, or the rate of infection due to mask-wearing. Thus, the study is lacking rigor with regard to two crucial elements when engaging in scientific methodology: An independent variable (masking-wearing), and a dependent variable (infectious rates).
Contrary to their vacuous claim, numerous studies have established that masks are effective in reducing the transmission of respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. A systematic review published in The Lancet analyzed 172 studies and concluded that masks are effective in reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission (Chu et al., 2020). Another systematic review and meta-analysis published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine found that face masks are effective in reducing the risk of respiratory virus transmission, with N95 respirators being more effective than surgical masks (Offeddu & Tam, 2020).
Furthermore, a study published in Infectious Disease Modelling used mathematical modeling to demonstrate the potential effectiveness of face masks in reducing the spread of COVID-19 (Eikenberry et al., 2020). The authors found that increasing the use of face masks in the general population could help significantly reduce the number of COVID-19 cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend the use of masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The CDC advises individuals to wear a mask in public indoor settings and in crowded outdoor settings to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 (CDC, 2022).
While the recent study cited by Medscape UK allegedly found little impact of mask-wearing policies in hospitals on the spread of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant, a wealth of scientific evidence and the CDC's guidance supports the use of masks in reducing the transmission of respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, March 15). Masks for COVID-19. Retrieved April 8, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/about-face-coverings.html
Chu, D. K., Akl, E. A., Duda, S., Solo, K., Yaacoub, S., Schünemann, H. J., & El-harakeh, A. (2020). Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet, 395(10242), 1973-1987. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31142-9
Eikenberry, S. E., Mancuso, M., Iboi, E., Phan, T., Eikenberry, K., Kuang, Y., Kostelich, E., Gumel, A. B., & Gumel, A. B. (2020). To mask or not to mask: Modeling the potential for face mask use by the general public to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic. Infectious Disease Modelling, 5, 293-308. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.idm.2020.04.001
Medscape UK. (2023, January 12). Mask-wearing in hospitals had little impact on COVID-19 Omicron. Retrieved April 8, 2023, from https://www.medscape.co.uk/viewarticle/964289
Spilchuk, V., Arrandale, V. H., & Armstrong, J. (2022). Potential risk factors associated with COVID-19 in health care workers. Occupational Medicine, 72(1), 35-42.