Dynamic models are used to assess the impact of three types of face masks (cloth masks, surgical/procedure masks and respirators) in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic in the USA. We showed that the pandemic would have failed to establish in the USA if a nationwide mask mandate, based on using respirators with moderately high compliance, had been implemented during the first two months of the pandemic. The other mask types would fail to prevent the pandemic from becoming established. When mask usage compliance is low to moderate, respirators are far more effective in reducing disease burden. Using data from the third wave, we showed that the epidemic could be eliminated in the USA if at least 40% of the population consistently wore respirators in public. Surgical masks can also lead to elimination, but requires compliance of at least 55%. Daily COVID-19 mortality could be eliminated in the USA by June or July 2021 if 95% of the population opted for either respirators or surgical masks from the beginning of the third wave. We showed that the prospect of effective control or elimination of the pandemic using mask-based strategy is greatly enhanced if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) that significantly reduce the baseline community transmission. By slightly modifying the model to include the effect of a vaccine against COVID-19 and waning vaccine-derived and natural immunity, this study shows that the waning of such immunity could trigger multiple new waves of the pandemic in the USA. The number, severity and duration of the projected waves depend on the quality of mask type used and the level of increase in the baseline levels of other NPIs used in the community during the onset of the third wave of the pandemic in the USA. Specifically, no severe fourth or subsequent wave of the pandemic will be recorded in the USA if surgical masks or respirators are used, particularly if the mask use strategy is combined with an increase in the baseline levels of other NPIs. This study further emphasizes the role of human behaviour towards masking on COVID-19 burden, and highlights the urgent need to maintain a healthy stockpile of highly effective respiratory protection, particularly respirators, to be made available to the general public in times of future outbreaks or pandemics of respiratory diseases that inflict severe public health and socio-economic burden on the population.
- face masks and respirators
- mathematical model
- non-pharmaceutical and pharmaceutical interventions
ASJC Scopus subject areas