FRIDAY, Dec. 17, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Mask mandates work, according to a large international study that linked the laws with a reduction in COVID-19 deaths.
The study included 44 countries with a combined population of nearly 1 billion. Over time, researchers found, the increase in COVID-related deaths was significantly slower in countries with mask laws than in countries without them.
"While several studies before this have looked at the impact of masks on COVID-19 cases, fewer studies were focused on whether mask wearing may reduce COVID-19 deaths, and no study had looked at the data across multiple countries," said lead investigator Dr. Sahar Motallebi of the Department of Social Medicine and Global Health at Lund University in Malmo, Sweden.
"The large sample of culturally diverse countries in this retrospective study covers a large population, giving us more evidence towards the lifesaving potential of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic," she said.
The researchers used countries in the top 50 of a United Nations' development index, which measures life expectancy, education and standard of living. They excluded six of those countries -- four in the Southern Hemisphere -- because of potential concerns about seasonality, as well as the United States and Canada, where health policy exists at the state or provincial level rather than nationally.
Of the countries studied, 27 had face mask rules and 17 did not.
Between Feb. 15 and May 31, 2020, the countries recorded a combined 2.2 million deaths. They included 1.25 million in countries without mask mandates and nearly 914,000 in countries with mandates.
On average, countries where masks were required had an average COVID death rate of 48.40 per million -- compared to 288.54 per million in countries without mandates.
On average, face mask countries also had a significantly lower daily increase in deaths compared to countries without mandates, even though those countries with no mandates had started with lower COVID death rates, the study found. It was published recently in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
"To reach its full potential of saving lives, public health research should be practical and pragmatic," Motallebi said in a journal news release. "Our primary objective was to assess lessons learned from the pandemic in order to better prepare for future potential epidemics of airborne diseases, before pharmaceutical interventions are available."
With delays in vaccinations persisting around the world, masks remain an important tool for prevention, the researchers said.
That's even true after full vaccination of a population, they added. Vaccines may reduce death rates across COVID variants, but not necessarily case levels, and face masks protect against rises in both.
"We don't have to choose between these two good policies of vaccination and face masks or substitute one for the other when we can and must do both in parallel," Motallebi said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on masks.
SOURCE: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, news release, Dec. 15, 2021