Masks, social distancing by 60% of people may curb Covid spread

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Coronavirus viral outbreaks can be prevented if at least 60 percent of people start wearing masks, and maintain social distancing, according to a study.

“Neither social distancing nor mask-wearing alone is likely sufficient to halt the spread of Covid-19 unless almost the entire population adheres to the single measure,” said Maurizio Porfiri from the New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering in the US.

“But if a significant fraction of the population adheres to both measures, viral spreading can be prevented without mass vaccination,” he added.

For the study, published in the journal Chaos, the team developed a mathematical model to study the effects of these two measures on the spread of airborne diseases like Covid-19.

The model drew on cell phone mobility data and Facebook surveys obtained from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

The data showed people who wear masks are also those who tend to reduce their mobility. Based on this premise, they were split into individuals who regularly wear masks and socially distance and those whose behaviour remains largely unchanged by an epidemic or pandemic.

Overall, the model demonstrated that neither social distancing nor mask-wearing alone are likely sufficient to halt the spread of Covid, unless almost the entirety of the population adheres to them.

Using data collected by The New York Times to gauge the model’s effectiveness, the researchers analysed the cumulative cases per capita in all 50 states in the US between July 14, 2020 through December 10.

The team observed that states that are suffering from the largest number of infections are also those that comply less with public health guidelines.

In addition to showing the effects of combining mask wearing and social distancing, the model shows the critical need of widespread adherence to public health measures.

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