Study: Face Mask Use for Short Time After Hitting COVID-19 Vaccine Targets Is Beneficial

Simulations of disease spread show that wearing masks for at least 2 weeks after achieving goal of a minimum of 70% population coverage saves money and reduces deaths and hospitalizations.

Maintaining face mask use in public indoor spaces and on public transportation for at least 2 weeks after COVID-19 vaccination targets are met, with a minimum of 70% coverage, cuts costs and saves lives, according to the results of a modelling study published in The Lancet Public Health.

The lower the level of the final population vaccination coverage the greater the economic and health benefits from using a face mask, the study results showed.

In the simulations of the US population, the results showed that continuing to wear face masks at the levels seen from March 2020 to July 2020, between 2 and 10 weeks after reaching the vaccination targets, would save billions of dollars in health care and societal costs and greatly reduce deaths and hospitalizations related to COVID-19.

Face masks were widely used in the United States during the pandemic. However, the mask requirements put into place during the Delta and Omicron variants have been somewhat lax, despite vaccination rates being below potential herd immunity thresholds, investigators said in a statement.

The CDC recently launched a tool to offer guidance on face mask use based on COVID-19 levels in every county in the United States. The new recommendations are not mandates but aim to inform policies for wearing face masks indoors in municipalities and states.

The policies that are related to face mask usage under federal jurisdictions, such as in airports and health care settings, will remain in place.

“Our findings emphasize that vaccination alone is not enough to control the pandemic and that overlapping layers of protective measures are needed to limit economic impacts and deaths. The newly released recommendations from CDC come at a time when many places in the United States are also beginning to consider easing mask requirements, and the choice to wear a mask will come down to individual decisions or decisions of private businesses,” Bruce Lee, MD, of the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, said in a statement.

“Our model represents the US population, but the breadth and scale of the simulated scenarios mean the results are also applicable to other countries,” he said.

Investigators developed a computational model that represents the impact and spread of COVID-19 among more than 327 million individuals in the United States. They used various scenarios in terms of vaccination levels and the date targets were reached, as well as levels of face mask usage and the dates face mask usage ended.

In all the simulated scenarios, maintaining mask saved money, at less than $1.25 per day. The investigators determined that cloth, N95, and surgical worn in the United States between March 2020 and July 2020 cost just 32 cents per individual, per day.

The lower the level of final population vaccination coverage, the greater the benefits of continued face mask use, according to investigators.

For example, the investigators estimated that if the United States achieved 90% vaccine coverage by May 1, 2022, wearing face masks until then would save $2.4 billion in direct medical costs and $13.3 billion in societal costs and avert 6.29 million COVID-19 cases, 136,700 related hospitalizations, and 16,000 related deaths.

Achieving 80% vaccination coverage would increase savings to $16.7 billion in societal costs and $2.9 billion in direct medical costs, and avert 6.66 million COVID-19 cases, 174,000 related hospitalizations, and 20,500 related deaths.

Reference

The Lancet Public Health: maintaining face mask use for short time after hitting particular COVID-19 vaccination targets offers major economic and health benefits, modelling indicates. EurekAlert. News release. March 8, 2022. Accessed March 10, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/945632