Colleges with mask mandate see high mask usage, study says

Published: February 12, 2021
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Researchers at six universities, including Auburn University, have found that mask usage was high on campuses in loca­tions where masks were mandated.

Study findings were reported in “Observed Face Mask Use at Six Universities—United States, September–November 2020” and published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, in its “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” or MMWR. Often called “the voice of CDC,” MMWR is the agency’s primary vehicle for scientific publication.

The study at Auburn is a result of a collaboration between Linda Gibson-Young, an associate professor in the School of Nursing, and Andrea Perkins, a clinical lecturer in the College of Veterinary Medicine. The pair recruited students from across campus to be CDC-trained observers.

Observations were made at various on- and off-campus locations throughout the fall semester. At the time, Auburn and five other universities across the country had partnered with the CDC to address the high positivity rate of SARS-CoV-2 among the college-aged demographic. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19.

Work continues for the spring semester, with 66 universities participating. Auburn remains the only university in Alabama to take part.

The work involves a longitudinal observational mask-use study to measure the proportion of people who are: wearing masks, wearing a mask correctly and wearing different mask types, such as N95, surgical, cloth, gaiter or other.

The use of face masks has been shown to reduce transmission of the virus, which has infected more than 106 million people worldwide.

“We know that universal masking works,” said John T. Brooks, CDC medical officer to The Washington Post. “… whatever we can do to improve the fit of a mask to make it work better, the faster we can end this pandemic.”

Correct mask usage includes covering both the nose and mouth, securing it under the chin and ensuring a snug fit against the sides of the face.

The CDC announced this week that Americans should consider wearing a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask or improve the fit of a single surgical mask by knotting the ear loops and tucking in the sides close to the face to prevent air from leaking out around the edges.

The state of Alabama and Auburn have had mask mandates in place since last summer. Perkins and Gibson-Young were pleased to continue studying mask behaviors with more universities participating, as many, like Auburn, are concerned with reopening safely.

Auburn resumed full campus operations on Feb. 8.

Results for the first week of the study, Feb. 1-6, showed that 93.2% wore masks and, of those, 89.1% wore their mask correctly. The most common mask type observed during the week was cloth (61.9%), followed by surgical masks (29%).

Weekly results will be published in Auburn News and This Week @ Auburn.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.