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A modelling framework to assess the likely effectiveness of facemasks in combination with ‘lock-down’ in managing the COVID-19 pandemic

A modelling framework to assess the likely effectiveness of facemasks in combination with ‘lock-down’ in managing the COVID-19 pandemic

Stutt, Richard O. J. H. ORCID: 0000-0002-1765-2633, Retkute, Renata, Bradley, Michael, Gilligan, Christopher A. and Colvin, John (2020) A modelling framework to assess the likely effectiveness of facemasks in combination with ‘lock-down’ in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 476 (2238):20200376. ISSN 1364-5021 (Print), 1471-2946 (Online) (doi:https://doi.org/10.1098/rspa.2020.0376)

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Abstract

COVID-19 is characterized by an infectious pre-symptomatic period, when newly infected individuals can unwittingly infect others. We are interested in what benefits facemasks could offer as a non-pharmaceutical intervention, especially in the settings where high-technology interventions, such as contact tracing using mobile apps or rapid case detection via molecular tests, are not sustainable. Here, we report the results of two mathematical models and show that facemask use by the public could make a major contribution to reducing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our intention is to provide a simple modelling framework to examine the dynamics of COVID-19 epidemics when facemasks are worn by the public, with or without imposed ‘lock-down’ periods. Our results are illustrated for a number of plausible values for parameter ranges describing epidemiological processes and mechanistic properties of facemasks, in the absence of current measurements for these values. We show that, when facemasks are used by the public all the time (not just from when symptoms first appear), the effective reproduction number, Re, can be decreased below 1, leading to the mitigation of epidemic spread. Under certain conditions, when lock-down periods are implemented in combination with 100% facemask use, there is vastly less disease spread, secondary and tertiary waves are flattened and the epidemic is brought under control. The effect occurs even when it is assumed that facemasks are only 50% effective at capturing exhaled virus inoculum with an equal or lower efficiency on inhalation. Facemask use by the public has been suggested to be ineffective because wearers may touch their faces more often, thus increasing the probability of contracting COVID-19. For completeness, our models show that facemask adoption provides population-level benefits, even in circumstances where wearers are placed at increased risk. At the time of writing, facemask use by the public has not been recommended in many countries, but a recommendation for wearing face-coverings has just been announced for Scotland. Even if facemask use began after the start of the first lock-down period, our results show that benefits could still accrue by reducing the risk of the occurrence of further COVID-19 waves. We examine the effects of different rates of facemask adoption without lock-down periods and show that, even at lower levels of adoption, benefits accrue to the facemask wearers. These analyses may explain why some countries, where adoption of facemask use by the public is around 100%, have experienced significantly lower rates of COVID-19 spread and associated deaths. We conclude that facemask use by the public, when used in combination with physical distancing or periods of lock-down, may provide an acceptable way of managing the COVID-19 pandemic and re-opening economic activity. These results are relevant to the developed as well as the developing world, where large numbers of people are resource poor, but fabrication of home-made, effective facemasks is possible. A key message from our analyses to aid the widespread adoption of facemasks would be: ‘my mask protects you, your mask protects me’.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2020 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
Uncontrolled Keywords: facemasks; modelling; COVID-19
Subjects: T Technology > TA Engineering (General). Civil engineering (General)
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Engineering & Science
Faculty of Engineering & Science > School of Engineering (ENN)
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Wolfson Centre for Bulk Solids Handling Technology
Last Modified: 06 Oct 2020 01:22
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
Selected for GREAT 2019: None
Selected for REF2021: REF 1
URI: http://gala.gre.ac.uk/id/eprint/29253

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