Face masks do not cause a false sense of security: Dutch researchers
People who wear face masks don't suddenly have a false sense of security, prompting them to ignore social distancing, according to a street observation study on the use of masks in Amsterdam. It is not masks, but crowds, that make people not keep their distance from each other, research leader Marie Rosenkrantz Lindegaard of the Netherlands Study Center for Crime and Law Enforcement said to the Volkskrant.
For her study, Lindegaard analyzed security camera footage of a wide, not overcrowded, fairly average shopping street in Amsterdam around June 1st. She would not tell the newspaper which street, so that potential follow up research isn't disrupted. She found that passersby in a mask violated the 1.5 meter rule just as often as people without a mask. She also found that 80 percent of mask wearers wore the mask correctly.
Linegaard also noticed that violations of the social distancing rule are "commonplace". In the 30 seconds passersby were recorded by the surveillance cameras, 55 percent came closer than 1.5 meters from someone else. 12 percent even passed another person within less than half a meter.
"We saw that busyness is the most important predictor of how poorly people keep their distance. That means that if you want to enforce the distance rule, you have to do crowd management, crowd control. Make sure there are not too many people in a place at the same time, make sure there are clearly separated pedestrian flows," Lindegaard said. "We can cautiously say: there is no need to worry that face masks give people a false sense of security and lead to less distance between them."
These conclusions can have major consequences for the Dutch government's coronavirus policy, John de Wit, professor of health psychology at Utrecht University, said to the Volkskrant. The belief that face masks would encourage reckless behavior is one of the main reasons why the government is against obliging them. "But this research provides solid evidence that those masks do not have any serious adverse effects," De Wit said. "These are serious numbers that really help us."
Scientifically, De Wit would advise people to wear a mask in places where it is difficult to keep your distance. "My personal opinion is that they are not the solution, but they can contribute."