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A study by a team of researchers led by a Texas A&M University professor has found that not wearing a face mask dramatically increases a person’s chances of being infected by the COVID-19 virus.

Renyi Zhang, a Texas A&M professor of atmospheric sciences — along with colleagues from three other universities — looked at trends and mitigation procedures in China, Italy and in New York City. The team of researchers found that using a face mask reduced the number of infections by more than 78,000 in Italy from April 6-May 9 and by over 66,000 in New York City from April 17-May 9.

Zhang said the results ought to send a clear message to people worldwide — wearing a face mask is essential in combating COVID-19.

“Our results clearly show that airborne transmission via respiratory aerosols represents the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19,” Zhang said in a statement released by the university. “By analyzing the pandemic trends without face-covering using the statistical method and by projecting the trend, we calculated that over 66,000 infections were prevented by using a face mask in little over a month in New York City. We conclude that wearing a face mask in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission.

“This inexpensive practice, in conjunction with social distancing and other procedures, is the most likely opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic,” Zhang continued. “Our work also highlights that sound science is essential in decision-making for the current and future public health pandemics.”

Zhang worked alongside researchers from the University of Texas, the University of California-San Diego and the California Institute of Technology. Their work appears in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was funded by the Robert A. Welch Foundation.

“It is critical that we wear these masks when we are out in public spaces,” Sullivan said. “There’s science here. We know that this prevents the spread of the virus.”

Zhang noted that people in China have worn face masks for years, due primarily to the bad air quality of the country, he said.

“So people there are sort of used to this,” he said. “Mandated face-covering helped China in containing the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Our work suggests that the failure in containing the propagation of COVID-19 pandemic worldwide is largely attributed to the unrecognized importance of airborne virus transmission,” he said. “Social-distancing and washing our hands must continue, but that’s not sufficient enough protection. Wearing a face mask as well as practicing good hand hygiene and social distancing will greatly reduce the chances of anyone contracting the COVID-19 virus.”

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