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1. What’s become known as the Peltzman effect suggests that introducing one safety measure, such as car seatbelts, may lead to other, compensatory risk behaviours, such as speeding. (If you perceive that your car is safer than usual, you might compensate for this by driving faster.) In the context of COVID-19, it has been argued that the wearing of a mask may make people feel safer, and hence minimise other protective behaviours which we know to be effective, such as social distancing and regular hand washing.
Masks compared to seatbelts: “If you perceive that your car is safer than usual, you might compensate for this by driving faster”.
2. To offer any protection, masks need to be worn correctly and consistently when in contact with other people. Most studies conducted so far – none of which were conducted during the current pandemic – didn’t explicitly look at the level of adherence to mask-wearing. Those that did reported variable adherence, ranging from “good” to “poor”.
3. Masks may act as an extra transmission route or prompt other behaviour that transmits the virus, such as regular face touching. To stop masks being turned into alternative transmission routes, they need to be safely put on and taken off.
People touch their faces 15-23 times per hour on average – an itchy or poorly fitted mask may mean that people touch their eyes, nose and mouth even more regularly. After touching your mask, there’s a risk that your hands become contaminated, with the risk that you will then spread the virus to other surfaces, such as door handles, railings or tables.
4. UK researchers have calculated that if the entire UK population started using disposable masks daily, it would create a significant environmental hazard, namely 42,000 tonnes of potentially contaminated and unrecyclable plastic waste per year.
Also, most people will have noticed the increased littering of masks in community spaces, which may act as environmental and infection hazards. Reusable rather than disposable masks are therefore preferable.