People who wear face masks touch their faces less, research shows
Several months into the pandemic, people are starting to learn more about the novel coronavirus. And now that a recent study has found out that people who wear face coverings like masks tend to touch their faces less, perhaps we could help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by proper mask-wearing, even in our little ways.
Healthcare professionals around the world have already informed the public early on that the best way to keep oneself safe from the disease other than mask-wearing is to avoid touching one's face. Just by rubbing their eyes, nose, or mouth using contaminated hands, people can catch the virus.
Since face-touching, a frequent habit of many, seems to be unavoidable, then maybe face masks are our only defense. Although we cannot entirely stop ourselves from face-touching, wearing a mask can still reduce the frequency.
Due to the insufficient evidence on the usefulness of masks against COVID-19, China-based researchers were able to review various surveillance footage to track mask-wearing and face-touching behaviors of thousands of individuals.
In a study published online titled "Comparison of Face-Touching Behaviors Before and During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic," researchers analyzed the actions of 4,699 individuals before the pandemic as well as 2,887 individuals during the pandemic through videos from YouTube and other video websites.
They categorically found out that people in China touch their faces four times less often while people in South Korea touch their faces six times less often.
"Face-touching behaviors were reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among people in mainland China and South Korea," the authors of the study stated, noting that China and South Korea were the first countries to order mandatory mask-wearing early.
According to them, COVID-19 infected individuals, with or without symptoms, might contaminate public areas, which "would subsequently contaminate the hands of the general population."
Contamination of the face through hands and items might be a “critical transmission” of COVID-19. "Therefore, decreasing facial contamination is considered to be effective in preventing COVID-19 in the general population," they concluded. “The reduction of face-touching behaviors could contribute to curbing the COVID-19 pandemic.”
However, the said study also has its limitations. The authors admitted that they were not able to cover enclosed spaces particularly offices, restaurants, museums, and schools. Still, the findings they had still support earlier studies about mask-wearing.
Earlier this month, a separate study inferred that US-based healthcare workers, who didn't wear face masks during the study period, touched their faces nearly four times as often as those who wore masks.
“Our study addresses a potential misconception that masks increase face-touching behavior. There is no evidence that masks increase face touching, and in fact, our data suggest otherwise," said Robert Goldsby, MD, a UC San Francisco professor of clinical pediatrics who led the study.
These studies, albeit limited, both indicated that masks not only are an effective barrier to disease transmission but also reduce face-touching. Furthermore, face masks serve as a reminder for us not to succumb to the inevitable.
As people get more used to wearing masks, we could also expect face-touching frequencies to decrease. Hopefully, this situation will force people to settle on masks that are comfortable and protective.
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When it comes to minimizing the spread of COVID-19, a highly-efficient face mask remains the first line of defense. We have said it before and we will say it again: Finding the right mask matters.
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