Wearing a face mask does not lead to a false sense of security, study finds

Wearing face coverings to protect against COVID-19 does not lead to a false sense of security, a study suggests Wearing face coverings to protect against COVID-19 does not lead to a false sense of security, a study suggests.

It is also unlikely to boost infection risk through wearers abandoning other behaviours, such as good hand hygiene.

This is according to researchers from the University of Cambridge and King’s College London.

Early in the pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned wearing face coverings could ‘create a false sense of security that can lead to neglecting other essential measures such as hand hygiene practices’.

Greater threat

But this concept of ‘risk compensation’ is itself the bigger threat to the public, researchers argue. They say it may discourage policymakers from putting effective measures in place.

Risk compensation implies that people have a target level of risk they are comfortable with and they adjust their behaviour to maintain that level of risk. Another example is a cyclist wearing a helmet so they may cycle at faster speeds.

The team conducted at least 22 systematic reviews to assess the effect of wearing a mask on COVID-19 transmission. None of the studies looked at social distancing or were intended to assess risk compensation. However, results suggest mask wearing does not reduce the frequency of hand washing or hand sanitising.

And in two of the studies, self-declared hand washing rates were higher in the groups who were wearing masks.

Prevent spread of disease

‘The concept of risk compensation, rather than risk compensation itself, seems the greater threat to public health. This is through delaying potentially effective interventions that can help prevent the spread of disease,’  said Professor Dame Theresa Marteau, who led the study.

Currently, face coverings are mandatory or recommended in more than 160 countries in a bid to lower COVID-19 transmissions.


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