Social distancing, face masks curb coronavirus risk, finds largest review of studies to date

The best way to prevent a COVID-19 infection?

Wear a face mask and keep your distancing from others.

It may sound redundant, considering that’s what health officials have urged the public to do for weeks now. But according to the largest review of studies to date on coronavirus transmission, these precautionary measures — including frequent hand washing — are the best ways to reduce risk.


The findings, published this week in The Lancet journal, were based on a review of some 172 studies across 16 countries. The studies reviewed by an international team of researchers were focused on “assessing distance measures, face masks and eye protection to prevent transmission of three diseases caused by coronaviruses — COVID-19, SARS, and MERS,” Reuters reported.

The researchers found that physically distancing at least one meter from others — or about three feet — could lower the risk of transmission of COVID-19, but noted that two meters — or just over six feet — was even more protective (federal health officials, such as those with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], currently recommend keeping a six-foot distance from others while in public.)


Wearing a face mask could also be beneficial, but doing so is “not an alternative to physical distancing, eye protection or basic measures such as hand hygiene,” Derek Chu, an assistant professor at McMaster University in Canada who co-led the work, said, according to Reuters.

“Our findings are the first to synthesize all direct information on COVID-19, SARS, and MERS, and provide the currently best available evidence on the optimum use of these common and simple interventions to help ‘flatten the curve,’” said Holger Schünemann, who helped lead the research and is also from McMaster University, per the outlet.

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