(NEXSTAR) — Do face masks help prevent COVID-19 infection? Two years into the pandemic, many still reject the use of mask-wearing to stop virus’ spread – despite myriad scientific studies and recommendations from health officials. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it has new real-world evidence that masks work.
Results of a new study performed from Feb. 18 to Dec. 1, 2021, show the least protective face covering (an ordinary cloth mask) offered 56% more protection than wearing no mask in indoor settings. Meanwhile, surgical masks offered 66% more protection and N95/KN95 respirators offered the most protection, 83%.
“In addition to being up to date with recommended COVID-19 vaccinations, consistently wearing a comfortable, well-fitting face mask or respirator in indoor public settings protects against acquisition of SARS-CoV-2 infection; a respirator offers the most protection,” authors write in the study’s early release.
A total of 652 participants who tested positive for COVID-19 and 1,511 participants who tested negative indicated their mask usage and if they’d been in public places in the two weeks leading up to their tests. “Public places” includes spaces like retail stores, restaurants, places of worship and movie theaters, among others. People who had previously tested positive for COVID-19 before the study were not allowed to participate.
Additionally, positive-result and negative-result people were matched against each other and vaccination status was also accounted for. It’s also worth noting that only 534 participants were asked about the type of masks they used, which began in the final months of the study.
Researchers of the study, which was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, note that while some limitations exist, this real-world data is consistent with existing research showing that masks are effective.
Last month, the Biden administration made 400 million free N95 masks available to Americans in an effort to increase protection during the omicron surge. While the CDC urges the use of fitted N95 or KN95 masks, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in January that the most effective mask “is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings.”
The CDC urges and reminds Americans that the currently available COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are safe and effective. People who have received all doses of their original shots are considered “fully vaccinated,” while people who have received all primary doses plus a booster are considered “up to date.” While vaccines do not ensure you won’t become infected with COVID-19, they have significant real-world data confirming they prevent severe illness and hospitalization.
This past week, Denmark lifted all COVID-19 restrictions like vaccine requirements to enter public spaces – becoming the first country in the EU to do so. Danish researcher Michael Bang Petersen, who works with the country’s government, told The Atlantic high vaccination rates is a main factor making this possible: 81% of adults have two vaccine doses, 61% have booster shots.
As part of the lift, Denmark indoor mask mandate was also ended.