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Wearing face masks and social distancing actually work to contain COVID-19: Study
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Wearing face masks and social distancing actually work to contain COVID-19: Study

The best practices for controlling an infectious disease like COVID-19 aren’t easy to follow—keeping six feet apart from others, wearing face masks in public, and, if you’re a health care worker, wearing shields to protect your eyes as well.
But in a study published Monday in The Lancet, researchers provide the strongest evidence yet that these practices do indeed lower the risk of spreading the virus.
An international group of scientists, led by senior author Dr. Holger Schunemann, professor of clinical epidemiology and medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, analyzed 172 studies conducted in 16 countries that looked at the connection between social distancing, wearing masks, and wearing eye protection, and the risk of transmitting the virus. The studies included people with COVID-19 infections in addition to those with two other diseases caused by coronaviruses, SARS and MERS. The studies were observational, meaning that they tracked infection rates among people who practiced any of the aforementioned behaviors. Of the 172 studies, 44 (involving more than 25,000 participants) also included comparisons between those who followed the behaviors and those who did not.
When it comes to social distancing, the analysis showed that, on average, the risk of getting infected when remaining 1 meter (a little more than 3 ft) from an infected person was about 3%, while staying less than 1 meter apart upped the risk to 13%. The further people stand away from one another, the lower their risk. In fact, the risk drops by half for every additional meter of distancing up to 3 meters (about 10 ft).
“What we tried to do was bring everything together and sort out what distance might be the most effective, rather than an arbitrary threshold,” says Schunemann. Based on how far respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes generally travel, most public health policies currently recommend standing at least 2 meters (about 6.7 ft) apart in public areas, which the study findings support. “The virus doesn’t know what a meter is, or what six feet is,” says Schunemann. “What this evidence suggests is that two meters, or 6.7 feet, appears that it might be more protective than one meter or three feet.”
The data also supported the benefits of eye shields for health care workers. The risk of infection among people who wore glasses, goggles or other face shields was 6% compared to 16% among those not wearing such protection.
The studies included health care workers in hospitals, as well as people living in households with an infected person. The researchers tracked whether those in close contact to people who had a coronavirus infection kept their distance, wore a mask or eye protection, and whether they too got infected.
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