Combination of masks, hand washing, social distancing stops Covid infection: Utrecht study
A combination of wearing a face mask, keeping 1.5 meters apart, and regularly washing your hands is enough to prevent another major coronavirus outbreak in the Netherlands and other western countries, according to a study by UMC Utrecht published in scientific journal PLOS Medicine.
"Based on our results, we conclude that handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing adopted by disease-aware individuals can delay the epidemic peak, flatten the epidemic curve, and reduce the attack rate," the researchers concluded. "Given the high uncertainty around the efficacies of hand hygiene and mask-wearing on their own, the promotion of a combination of these measures might become preferable to recommending handwashing or mask-only measures."
The study showed that face masks reduces spreading the virus from an infected person to an uninfected person, washing hands reduces the chance of becoming infected, and social distancing reduces the chance of coming into contact with the virus. "Each of these measures alone is not enough to prevent a major outbreak," Martin Bootsma, physicist and mathematician at UMC Utrecht's department of epidemiology and co-author of this study, said to AD. Together the measures can reduce infection enough to prevent another epidemic.
The researchers made a mathematical model to predict the influence of a lockdown and personal prevention measures on the spread of the coronavirus. They found that even if prevention measures reduce the chance of transmission by only slightly more than half, that is enough to prevent a major epidemic. Without preventative measures, and as long as there is no vaccine or effective treatment, the number of infections will spike to a level that the healthcare system is overloaded.
The number of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands increased significantly since measures were relaxed at the start of this month, making tourism and day trips more possible. Amsterdam, in particular, has been struggling with a very crowded Red Light District over weekends. The city is taking measures to manage the crowds, and along with Rotterdam, called on the government to consider implementing a mask obligation in public spaces. But according to Hubert Bruls, head of the Security Council, that would be unwise and impractical.
Bootsma told AD that he is not calling for the mandatory use of masks in public spaces. "Our model shows that the risk of virus transmission does not have to be reduced to zero in order to have an effect. However, it has been established that the mandatory use of mouth masks reduces the risk of virus transmission. So use face masks if you have frequent contact with others, I would say. Like in public transport, or at a demonstration."
Compliance with the coronavirus measures is becoming increasingly hard for people as this crisis stretches on. Despite this, Bootsma thinks that the Netherlands will not end up in a situation as dire as March and April again, with the coronavirus at least. "We now know much more about the virus spread. If citizens do not comply with the prevention measures, the government will intervene."
The model is based on Dutch data on contact intensity in society. Because other Western countries have a similar contact structure, the study results can also apply to them, Bootsma said. He added that the model has some limitations, like travel behavior was not taken into account, neither was the contact between an infected person and their housemates.