Report examines effectiveness of social distancing and face masks


A new report in the Lancet examines whether efforts to stem COVID-19 such as social distancing and wearing face masks are effective.

As the pandemic has continued, public health organizations have released many recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID-19 such as social distancing and face masks. A new report in the Lancet examines how effective such measures are in preventing the spread of the disease.1

The researchers did a systematic review and meta-analysis. They collected data for SARS-CoV-2 and the betacoronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) from 21 standard World Health Organization-specific and COVID-19 specific sources. The search found 172 observational studies across 16 countries and 6 continents as well as 44 relevant comparative studies in health care and non–health care settings.

A review of the data showed that the transmission of the viruses was lower with physical distancing of 1 meter or more when compared with a distance of less than 1 meter. The protection increased as the distance was lengthened. The use of face masks can result in a large reduction in the risk of infection, with a stronger link with N95 or similar respirators when compared with disposable surgical masks or other similar cotton masks. Eye protection also was linked to less infection. Similar findings were seen in unadjusted studies as well.

Investigators concluded that their review supports current guidelines for physical distancing and that optimum use of face masks and eye protection can help reduce infections. They believe that further study is needed to add to the evidence, but that their review could help public health organizations formulate further guidance.


1.    Chu DK, Akl EA, Duda S et al. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet. June 1, 2020. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(20)31142-9

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Tina Tan, MD, FAAP, FIDSA, FPIDS, editor in chief, Contemporary Pediatrics, professor of pediatrics, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, pediatric infectious diseases attending, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago
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