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Masks protect you and those around you, study shows

A recent study shows health care workers who wore surgical masks reduced their risk by 67%.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Wearing a mask or face covering has become a hot button issue, but a recent study demonstrates why covering your face is the best course of action.

Dr. Dean Blumberg, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at UC Davis Children's Hospital, said wearing a mask protects both the wearer and those with whom they come in contact.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

ABC10: How did you learn of this research?

Dr. Dean Blumberg: I'm always looking to find out how well masks work, because it is a question that several people have. I was happy to come across a recent article in the Journal Lancet and it was a meta-analysis, which meant that there are a lot of different studies on this subject. They took all these studies, found the commonalities between them and grouped them all together to get more power in terms of having bigger numbers so they could really prove their point better.

What were the findings of the study?

It looked at mostly health care workers who were wearing masks when they were exposed and they separated that out into those who were wearing surgical masks versus using the N95 masks that health care workers use. What they found was using the standard surgical mask protected the person wearing the mask from getting infected when they were exposed to somebody who did have coronavirus and it decreased the risk of transmission by 67%. Wearing an N95 mask...reduced risk of transmission by 96%. I think what this shows is that the virus is primarily transmitted via droplet transmission.

Why is wearing a mask best practice?  

 We have really mixed messaging on masks to the public. Initially... we were saying don't wear a mask in public and the next message was wear a mask to protect others in case you are infected. But I'd like to reset that now because I think what this new research shows is that wearing a mask not only protects you from infecting others, but there is a benefit to the person wearing the mask. There's a two-thirds reduction in the risk of getting infected. People should wear a mask to protect themselves as well as to protect other members of the community. 

What led to the conclusion that children are less likely to become infected with COVID-19?

Children are 50% less likely to get infected when exposed to someone with COVID-19. The transmission risk isn't the same. If they get infected, they are less likely to be symptomatic. And if they are symptomatic, they're less likely to be severely symptomatic and severely ill. Kids don't seem to be driving this outbreak at all.

Can you explain the two main methods of COVID-19 transmission?    

It's primarily transmitted by droplets. The droplets are relatively large, so that means if you cough out or sneeze out these droplets, they're so big that within 3 to 6 feet gravity takes over and they end up on the ground. They don't float around in the air. There's also aersolized...these aerosols can travel longer distance and remain the air longer. We know that we can have outbreaks related to aerosol particles also. The third mode of transmission is contact, so touching a potentially contaminated surface then touching your face, eyes or mouth. We've all paid a lot of attention to hand washing, disinfection and that's good, but that's not the primary mode of transmission. Our main efforts need to be with social distancing and mask wearing because that's the main way of transmission -- being close to somebody and the droplet transmission.

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