Wearing a face mask and physically distancing from others are the most effective public safety measures against the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 and have a statistically significant impact on reducing the spread, according to a new global study.
The study, which was published in the British Medical Journal on Thursday, was conducted by researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia; the University of Edinburgh in Scotland; and Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China, and looked at data from 30 studies around the world. It found that wearing a face mask reduces the incidence of COVID by 53%, while social distancing reduces it by 25%.
“This systematic review identified a statistically significant reduction in the incidence of COVID-19 through the implementation of mask wearing and physical distancing,” the authors wrote. “Handwashing interventions also indicated a substantial reduction in COVID-19 incidence, albeit not statistically significant in the adjusted model.” That was due to a smaller sample of studies on hand washing versus the other two measures.
The study was welcomed by health experts who have increasingly been calling for people everywhere not to rely solely on vaccines to end the pandemic, but rather to embrace the full range of measures that have proven successful in those countries that have arrested the spread of the virus.
Japan, for example, which was in crisis around the time it hosted the Olympic Games in July and August, has succeeded in reducing its infections using a combination of vaccines and treatments, along with safety measures including face masks, distancing and hand washing.
From the archives (October 2021): Japan becomes surprise overnight COVID success story
While vaccines are safe and highly effective in preventing serious COVID, hospitalization and death, they are not 100% effective, and breakthrough infections are occurring. Most of the current new cases and deaths are in unvaccinated people, meaning it is remains vital for people to get their shots.
President Joe Biden repeated that message on Thursday, while commenting on the news that Pfizer has agreed to supply the U.S. government with 10 million doses of its COVID antiviral for a price of $5.29 billion, assuming it is authorized.
“Earlier this month, we received promising news that Pfizer PFE, +1.07% has developed an antiviral pill for people infected by COVID-19 that may dramatically reduce the risk of hospitalizations and death,” Biden said in a statement. “While this antiviral pill still requires a full review by the Food and Drug Administration, I have taken immediate steps to secure enough supply for the American people. “
Biden said his administration is making the necessary preparations to ensure that the treatments will be easily accessible and free, offering another tool to combat the spread and end that crisis.
However, “vaccines remain our strongest tool,” he added. “My message continues to be: get vaccinated. The vaccines are safe, free, and easily available. Don’t wait. Get vaccinated today. I will continue to take all necessary steps to ensure that America has the tools we need to save lives and bring an end to this pandemic.”
The U.S. is still averaging more than 1,100 COVID deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, most of them in unvaccinated people. That means the country is suffering a similar number of casualties to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, every three days.
Cases continue to average more than 88,000 a day, and more than 48,000 people are being hospitalized. Michigan and Minnesota lead the U.S. by new cases as measured on a per capita basis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker remains stubbornly static at 195 million people fully vaccinated, equal to 58.9% of the overall population and well below the 70% threshold experts say is needed to stop the spread.
A decision on whether the booster program should be expanded to all adults above the age of 18 is expected by Friday, according to media reports. The FDA is expected to make an announcement that will be followed on Friday by a meeting of a CDC advisory committee on the topic. Public health experts are clamoring for a yes vote.
Elsewhere, Germany, Austria and South Korea set fresh record one-day case tallies, and Russia set yet another one-day record death toll, according to the Guardian.
Germany is planning further measures to curb case spread after recording another 65,731 new infections on Thursday, Reuters reported. The country’s vaccine advisory committee is recommending booster shots for all adults over 18. Things are so dire in Bavaria that a hospital made the decision to transfer a COVID patient to Italy for treatment, AFP reported.
In medical news, AstraZeneca PLC AZN, -1.78% AZN, -2.43% said Phase 3 trials of its AZD7442 antibody combination confirmed that the treatment reduces risk of developing symptomatic COVID, Dow Jones Newswires reported. The analysis of its continuing trial evaluating a median six months of participant follow-up revealed that one dose of AZD7442 showed 83% reduced symptomatic COVID-19 risk and no severe disease or deaths.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 255.3 million on Thursday, while the death toll edged above 5.12 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. continues to lead the world with a total of 47.4 million cases and 767,692 deaths.
India is second by cases after the U.S. at 34.5 million and has suffered 464,623 deaths. Brazil has the world’s second highest death toll at 611,851 and 21.9 million cases.
In Europe, Russia has had the most fatalities at 255,448, followed by the U.K. at 144,000.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 110,875 confirmed cases and 4,809 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively understated.