Great Britain

Wear a face mask at HOME to stop the spread of coronavirus through your household

FACE masks should be worn at home to stop the spread of coronavirus through households, scientists say.

The Government urged Brits to wear face coverings in public spaces - where social distancing isn’t possible - to prevent the spread of Covid-19 earlier this month.

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However, researchers in China say face masks should now also be worn at home to help ward off the spread of Covid-19 infection among family members living under the same roof.

They say that this practice is 79 per cent effective at curbing coronavirus transmission through households - but only before symptoms emerge in the first person infected.

The researchers made the recommendation after questioning 460 people from 124 families in Beijing, China, on their household hygiene and behaviours during the pandemic.

Each family had at least one laboratory confirmed case of Covid-19 infection between late February and late March 2020.

Risk lessened

The average family size was four, but ranged from two to nine, and was usually made up of three generations.

Family members were defined as those who had lived with the infected person for four days before and more than 24 hours after that person's symptoms first appeared.

The researchers wanted to know what factors might heighten or lessen the risk of subsequently catching the virus within the incubation period - 14 days from the start of that person's symptoms.

During this time, secondary transmission - spread from the first infected person to other family members - occurred in 41 out of the 124 families.

A total of 77 adults and children were infected in this way, giving an 'attack rate' of 23 per cent or around one in four.

Around a third of the study children caught the virus (36 per cent) compared with more than two thirds of the adults (just over 69.5 per cent).

Twelve of the children had mild symptoms; one had none. Most (83 per cent) of the adults had mild symptoms; in around one in ten, symptoms were severe, and one person became critically ill.

Daily use of disinfectants, window opening, and keeping at least one metre apart were associated with a lower risk of passing on the virus, even in more crowded households.

However, in particular, the researchers noted that a face mask worn before symptoms started was 79 per cent effective, and disinfection 77 per cent effective, at stopping the virus from being passed on.

Precautionary mask use can prevent Covid-19 transmission during the pandemic

Chinese researchers

The authors acknowledge some limitations to their study, which was published in BMJ Global Health, as telephone interviews are subject to recall and the strength of household disinfectants and bleach used wasn't recorded.

Despite this, they suggest the findings back universal face mask use, not just in public spaces, but also at home.

And the findings may also be relevant for families living with someone in quarantine or in enforced social isolation, and for the families of health workers who may face an ongoing risk of infection, they say.

"This study confirms the highest risk of household transmission being prior to symptom onset, but that precautionary [non-pharmaceutical interventions], such as mask use, disinfection and social distancing in households can prevent Covid-19 transmission during the pandemic," independent of household size or crowding, they write.

Intrafamilial transmission

"Household transmission is a major driver of epidemic growth," they point out, adding that their findings could be used to "inform precautionary guidelines for families to reduce intrafamilial transmission in areas where there is high community transmission or other risk factors for Covid-19."

Despite this, Professor Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Health Care Services at the University of Oxford, says the researchers' findings must be weighed against the practicalities and the absolute risks involved.

She said: "In localities where the incidence of Covid-19 is high, people might feel this measure is worth the inconvenience, especially if there is a vulnerable family member.

"Where the incidence of the disease is low, the balance between benefits and hassles may lean more towards the latter."

Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) haven't endorsed the wearing of face masks indoors or outdoors, on the grounds that there's little good quality evidence to warrant recommending this.

Earlier this month, Brits were told to wear face coverings in public to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Boris Johnson said that homemade masks should be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible or where you may come into contact with people from outside of your household.

It includes public transport and in some shops, the Prime Minister's 50-page roadmap to get the UK out of lockdown revealed.

The Department of Health said that after considering the latest scientific advice from Sage, face coverings can help reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Scientific advice

They stressed that the evidence shows face coverings can stop you passing coronavirus on to others, if you are asymptomatic or have yet to develop symptoms.

It's unlikely they will stop you catching the bug.

TfL also said all passengers and staff would need to wear masks on the Underground, and advised people avoided busy times.

No 10 stressed that face coverings could include scarves and homemade masks - and added surgical masks used as vital PPE should be left for NHS and healthcare workers.

The guidelines state that children under the age of two should not wear masks, nor should anyone who may find it difficult to manage them safely. This includes primary age children and those with respiratory conditions.

The Government also warned that for face coverings to be effective, people must wash their hands before putting them on and taking them off.

They added that masks aren't necessary if you're outside, while exercising, at schools or in offices.


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