Preprint Concept Paper Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Public Use of Masks to Control the Coronavirus Pandemic

Version 1 : Received: 2 April 2020 / Approved: 3 April 2020 / Online: 3 April 2020 (03:47:23 CEST)
Version 2 : Received: 10 April 2020 / Approved: 12 April 2020 / Online: 12 April 2020 (08:41:58 CEST)

How to cite: Longrich, N.R. Public Use of Masks to Control the Coronavirus Pandemic. Preprints 2020, 2020040021. Longrich, N.R. Public Use of Masks to Control the Coronavirus Pandemic. Preprints 2020, 2020040021.


The US and UK governments, as well as the World Health Organization, currently advise against the use of masks by the public to fight the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19) pandemic (1). But could they be wrong? The governments of China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Viet Nam, Czechia, Slovakia, Bosnia and Taiwan all recommend that the public wear masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In some countries, like Japan, masks aren’t officially recommended, but are still widely used by the public. Many countries treat masks as a strategic resource. China has ramped up production of facemasks, converting Foxconn factories that once made iPhones to make face masks. Taiwan has also ramped up the production of facemasks, prohibited their export, and implemented price controls and rationing. It’s hard to see how both approaches could be right. Increasingly, advice against the use of face masks has been questioned (1) (2) (3), including by the head of China’s CDC (4). Common sense, scientific studies, but perhaps most of all the success of countries using masks to fight the coronavirus suggest that masks may make a difference. There are fewer scientific studies available to guide decision making than we might like, and the evidence is not always clear-cut. However, decision-making in a crisis requires that decisions be made in the absence of perfect clarity. What is clear is that the exponential mathematics of pandemics mean that even if masks are of limited benefit in reducing infection rates, masks could make a large difference over time, potentially slowing the pace of the pandemic, limiting its spread, saving lives, and finally, letting countries to restart the economies that their people depend on for their livelihoods.


COVID-19; face masks; epidemiology; coronavirus; pandemics


Medicine and Pharmacology, Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases

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