The required use of face masks could slow the spread of the coronavirus by as much as 40 percent daily, according to a new study. U.S. public health officials say wearing cloth face coverings, or other suitable face mask, helps people who may have the virus, and may not know they have it, from transmitting it to others.

The Florida Medical Association has issued a statement thanking local governments that have required face masks and urging other community leaders to do the same. The FMA is the largest physicians association in the state.

“The science is clear — asymptomatic infected individuals can release infectious aerosol particles while breathing and speaking,” said FMA President Ronald F. Giffler, M.D. “Not wearing a mask or face covering increases exposure, whereas universal masking greatly reduces the spread of viral particles. The message is simple: For the sake of your health and the health of everyone around you, Florida’s doctors want you to wear a mask.”

In the new study looking at the effectiveness of wearing masks, scientists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the University of Southern Denmark studied the German city of Jena, which became the first in that nation to make wearing the face coverings mandatory for citizens riding trains, buses and going into stores on April 6. The number of new COVID-19 infections recorded in the city then quickly fell by 23 percent over the next 20 days, the study found.

After taking into consideration data from the other regions, the researchers said they found a strong curve-flattening effect. They concluded that wearing face masks reduces the daily growth rate of reported coronavirus infections by about 40 percent.

“This is a sizable effect. Wearing face masks apparently helped considerably in reducing the spread of COVID-19,” they wrote in a discussion paper, published for the Institute of Labour Economics.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public areas “where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies),” especially in areas of significant “community-based transmission” of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The federal government’s face-mask guidelines came after data confirmed high rates of transmission from people who are asymptomatic, or do not have any symptoms, but tested positive.

Even as states are allowing some businesses to reopen, many local governments are mandating face coverings, particularly wherever social distancing can be challenging. Miami-Dade County became the first county in Florida to issue such an order. The order mirrors the CDC recommendation, stating that face masks can be homemade, using such items as scarfs, bandanas, or other cloth coverings that can fit securely over the nose and mouth.

Animation by Irina de Souza

Some experts believe that COVID-19 can be spread — not just from an infected person coughing or sneezing — but also from just talking or breathing in close proximity.

The CDC says that it advises people to use “simple cloth face coverings” to slow the spread of the virus, and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.

“Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure,” the CDC states.

The CDC cautions that cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, “or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.”

The CDC reiterates that “cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators.” Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first-responders, the CDC states.

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