Face masks better than handwashing?

The do you or don’t you debate on whether face masks are an important tool in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 has received another vote for the former.

Scientists have found that face masks provided the best line of defence for US sailors caught in a coronavirus outbreak onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.

With almost 5000 sailors onboard the ship that became a hotbed for the virus as it sailed the South Pacific, social distancing was near impossible.

The aircraft carrier arrived in Guam on 27 March and 100 crew were moved ashore for quarantine and treatment. The ship’s captain, Brett Crozier, was famously fired after his letter to command asking for the ship to be evacuated was leaked to the press.

More than 1000 sailors tested positive for COVID-19 during the outbreak.

The study by the US Centres of Disease Control and Prevention and the US Navy looked at a sample of 382 personnel on the ship.

Those who reported taking preventative measures – social distancing, handwashing and wearing masks – had a lower infection rate than those who did not, the study said, with masks proving most protective.

Only 55.8 per cent of those who wore a mask became infected, compared with 80.8 per cent of those who did not.

And of those who practised physical distancing, 54.7 per cent were infected, compared with 70 per cent of those who did not.

The researchers also found that wearing a face covering was more effective than increased handwashing.

The news comes as a UK government directive to use masks on public transport comes into force as the country moves out of lockdown, with calls to broaden compulsory mask wearing in shops, factories and offices.

In two other reports shared by Science Daily, one estimates that hundreds of thousands of infections in Europe and the US were prevented in April/May simply by the public donning masks, especially as almost half the people carrying COVID-19 show no symptoms.

Silent spreaders
 As many as 45 per cent of all COVID-19 cases never show symptoms of the disease, according to the results of a Scripps Research analysis of public datasets on asymptomatic infections.

The findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, were collated from testing studies and populations across the globe, including data on nursing home residents, cruise ship passengers and prison inmates, and from keyword searches online and in medical publications.

“What virtually all of them had in common was that a very large proportion of infected individuals had no symptoms,” said behavioural scientist and study author Daniel Oran. “Among more than 3000 prison inmates in four US states who tested positive for the coronavirus, the figure was astronomical: 96 per cent asymptomatic.”

Masks for freedom
In another example of the politicisation of COVID-19 in the US, the country’s surgeon-general has urged people to wear face coverings to promote ‘freedom’.

Many instances of verbal and physical abuse have been filmed in public as Americans protest over perceived overreach by government officials ordering the wearing of face masks while commuting and shopping.

Surgeon-General Jerome Adams pushed back on the idea that face coverings infringed on freedoms, saying they were important to slow the spread of coronavirus and reopen the economy.

“Some feel face coverings infringe on their freedom of choice – but if more wear them, we’ll have MORE freedom to go out,” Dr Adams wrote in a tweet.

“Like vaccines, the more who participate, the greater the impact.”

Beijing lockdown
Meanwhile, millions of Beijing residents have been caught in a second lockdown after more than 50 new cases of COVID-19 were linked to one of China’s biggest markets.

The country reported its biggest one-day jump in infections since 13 April, with 57 cases nationwide, though some 45 cases were related to workers at Xinfadi wholesale food market, one of China’s biggest markets.

The new restrictions have widened to include more than 20 suburbs for lockdown, as more market workers tested positive.

The AFP reported that mass testing of workers at the market had begun, as well as those who live nearby and anyone who visited it in recent weeks. Officials plan to carry out virus tests on 46,000 residents in the area. More than 10,000 people have been tested already.

The Beijing News said Communist Party members and volunteers were being organised to shop for food and other daily necessities for residents in the quarantine zone.

Have you worn a mask in public? Should more Australians take this precaution.

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