New Model Proves Wearing A Mask Saves Lives

by : Hannah Smith on :
New Model Proves Wearing A Mask Saves LivesPA Images

Wear a mask. It’s a simple message, and one experts have been telling us for months now, but not everyone is listening. Now, a model has proved once and for all that this simple addition to our daily wardrobe really does save lives.

A team from the University of South Carolina has used data on mask wearing trends in the United States to show how Covid-19 cases and deaths would have changed in individual counties if masks were made mandatory earlier, or were more widespread.


The upshot? Mask wearing works.

In a video produced for The Conversation, lead study author Dr. Biplav Srivastava, a computer science professor at the University, demonstrates how earlier adoption of mask wearing could have changed the impact of the virus on his home county.

Richland County, South Carolina, introduced mandatory mask wearing on July 2. As of October 11, the date for which Dr Srivastava runs his model, the county had 14,584 cases. The model found that if mask wearing had been introduced one month earlier, on June 1, the number of cases would have been 76% lower, resulting in 240 fewer deaths. With the county reporting 284 deaths as of December 1, that would suggest that all but 44 of those who died in the county could potentially have been saved by earlier mask wearing.


The model shows that while it’s the earlier the better as far as mask wearing goes, every single day counts when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Dr Srivastava demonstrates that if masks had been made compulsory just one day earlier, on July 1, Richland County would still have seen 61% fewer cases, and could have saved 190 more lives.

PA Images

The model is based on a mathematic technique used in drug testing called ‘robust synthetic control’, and uses data gathered by The New York Times on mask wearing, as well as daily Covid-19 statistic updates provided by Johns Hopkins University.

Based on this data, the model can also predict how the rate of mask wearing affects outbreaks at a local level. The New York Times has assigned each county as score based on mask wearing uptake, with 0 being lowest, and 5 being highest.


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To demonstrate this, the model took a county with a higher than average rate of mask wearing, Wyandotte County, Kansas, and simulated how COVID-19 might have spread if fewer people wore masks. It found that if the county’s mask wearing rate was closer to the national average, it would have seen 101.5% more cases, and an extra 150 deaths between June 1 and October 1.

Dr Srivastava cautioned that The New York Times’ data on mask wearing was gathered over the summer, and increased use of masks since then may alter the model, but even so, it’s clear that mask wearing at any time can help reduce the spread of the virus, and with cases growing rapidly across the United States, there’s no time like the present.

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Topics: Technology, COVID-19, Masks, Now


The Conversation
  1. The Conversation

    A new data-driven model shows that wearing masks saves lives – and the earlier you start, the better