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Network Model Shows Combined Mask Wearing and Social Distancing Suppresses COVID-19 Spread

The two measures were shown to prevent viral outbreaks if at least 60% of a population followed them.

A recent study conducted by investigators from New York University, in collaboration with investigators from the Politecnico di Torino in Italy, demonstrates that combining social distancing and mask wearing can reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Results from the study were published in the journal Chaos.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the importance of non-pharmaceutical interventions in the containment of airborne infectious diseases,” the authors said. “Social distancing and mask-wearing have been found to contain COVID-19 spreading across a number of observational studies, but a precise understanding of their combined effectiveness is lacking.”

For the study, investigators employed a network model which encompasses data points and links between them. The study model was based on a susceptible, exposed, infected, or removed framework, with each point representing an individual’s health status. The links represented any potential contact between pairs of individuals.

The model used data from cellphone mobility and surveys from the social media site Facebook, which were obtained from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

Additional data was gathered from the New York Times, which collected cumulative cases per capita in all 50 states in the US.

Findings from the study showed that viral outbreaks could be prevented if at least 60% of a population complies with both mask and social distancing measures. Data also showed that people who wear masks are also more likely to reduce their mobility and interact with fewer people.

"Neither social distancing nor mask wearing alone are likely sufficient to halt the spread of COVID-19, unless almost the entire population adheres to the single measure," Maurizio Porfiri, an author on the study said. "But if a significant fraction of the population adheres to both measures, viral spreading can be prevented without mass vaccination."