News National Phone, wallet, keys … face mask? How to be out in public amid the coronavirus
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Phone, wallet, keys … face mask? How to be out in public amid the coronavirus

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As Australia eases restrictions and takes careful steps toward a ‘new normal’, a group of US researchers say face masks will be “critical” to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Across the country, more Australians are being given the green light to visit cafes, work out at the gym and head back to the office.

But the threat of a second wave of infections looms, and experts urge us to make changes to the way we live to prevent any outbreaks.

Although there has been some disagreement in the medical community about the benefits of people wearing face masks in public, researchers from Texas A&M University now claim it is one of the best things we can do to prevent the spread of the virus.

The study, led by Distinguished Professor Renyi Zhang, found that not wearing a face mask “dramatically increases a person’s chances of being infected by the COVID-19 virus”.

As part of their study, the team analysed the likelihood of the coronavirus being spread from person to person using data from around the world.

Looking at trends and prevention measures in China, Italy and New York City, the researchers found that using a face mask reduced the number of infections by more than 78,000 in Italy from April 6 to May 9, and by more than 66,000 in New York City from April 17 to May 9.

“Our results clearly show that airborne transmission via respiratory aerosols represents the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19,” Professor Zhang said.

“We conclude that wearing a face mask in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission.”

Wearing a face mask, coupled with social distancing and other measures like good hygiene, were our best bet at stopping the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Zhang said.

Professor Mario Molina, co-author of the study and professor at the University of California-San Diego, said infected air droplets produced by coughing could remain in the air for “tens of minutes and can travel tens of feet”.

Using a face mask was “crucial” to prevent people from breathing in these tiny infected air particles and becoming sick, he said.

Professor Zhang said many people in China already wore face masks out of habit, mainly due to the country’s poor air quality.

“So people there are sort of used to this,” he said.

“Mandated face-covering helped China in containing the COVID-19 outbreak.”

He said the rapid spread of the virus was largely attributed to the “unrecognised importance of airborne virus transmission”.

“Social distancing and washing our hands must continue, but that’s not sufficient enough protection,” Professor Zhang said.

“Wearing a face mask as well as practising good hand hygiene and social distancing will greatly reduce the chances of anyone contracting the COVID-19 virus.”