Studies have shown that masks significantly decrease the chances of transmitting coronavirus, and some types of masks can help prevent their wearers from catching the virus. — Rob Picheta, CNN Journalist
Studies have shown that masks significantly decrease the chances of transmitting coronavirus, and some types of masks can help prevent their wearers from catching the virus. — Rob Picheta, CNN Journalist

Masks remain a symbol of a divided society — between those who feel we have restricted too much and those who feel we have not intervened enough during the pandemic. —  Simon Williams, a senior lecturer on Covid-19 behaviors at Swansea University in Wales
Masks remain a symbol of a divided society — between those who feel we have restricted too much and those who feel we have not intervened enough during the pandemic. — Simon Williams, a senior lecturer on Covid-19 behaviors at Swansea University in Wales

Why the world is still arguing over face masks, 20 months into the pandemic
Spikes in transmission were met with lockdowns; international travel was heavily restricted; and though domestic constraints frequently proved controversial, hygiene measures like social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing were strongly encouraged -- if not legally mandated.

But those days are behind us. Pandemic management now differs widely from country to country -- with the face mask just one example of the world's increasingly fractured approach to Covid-19.

The science behind masks is fairly clear, and has only become more robust over the course of the pandemic. Studies have shown that masks significantly decrease the chances of transmitting coronavirus, and some types of masks can help prevent their wearers from catching the virus.

Yet debates still rage in multiple countries over their use, and some regions have recently removed mandates that people wear them in crowded spaces.

"Masks remain a symbol of a divided society -- between those who feel we have restricted too much and those who feel we have not intervened enough during the pandemic," Simon Williams, a senior lecturer on Covid-19 behaviors at Swansea University in Wales, told CNN.

With the prospect of another winter pandemic brewing, some countries are grappling with calls to return to mask use. But they face resistance from people fatigued by endless mixed messaging -- and many experts fear that in countries where rules have been relaxed, reimposing mandates could be complicated.


... Outside parts of south-east Asia, where mask-wearing had become common after the SARS outbreak in 2002, few countries were used to covering their faces in public. But the unique shock of the Covid-19 outbreak meant behaviors quickly changed, experts say.

"Behavioral scientists and policymakers were quite surprised at how quickly people adopted masks once they were required," WIlliams said.

"The biggest development in mask perceptions over the pandemic has been an acceptance generally that they protect others as much, if not more, than the wearer," he added.

"The exact benefits in terms of cases prevented and lives saved are still being studied -- but even marginal gains are worthwhile when masks are relatively low-cost interventions, in that they are much easier for us than things like distancing or isolating."

But now, despite the body of scientific research into face masks only expanding, countries are heading in various directions.

... Experts say that whether most people will wear masks depends largely on the rules that are in place.

"The single biggest influence across all reason of face mask wearing appears to be the law," said Ivo Vlaev, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Warwick. He cited data from Imperial College London's Covid Behaviour Tracker, the largest rolling study of the societal impact of Covid-19 in the world.

"(Mandating) a behavior helps send out the signal that it is important," Williams added. "Mask wearing is a behavior that is really influenced by social norms -- or peer pressure -- and so in a setting where masks are no longer mandated, this might influence others not to wear theirs."
Read the full article: https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/02/health/face-mask-debate-covid-19-pandemic-cmd-intl/index.html