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ASU study predicts widespread mask use could save 'thousands of lives'

Posted at 11:33 PM, Apr 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-13 16:21:57-04

ASU mathematicians have recently published some new research that estimate Arizona's number of COVID-19 cases could be up to five times higher than currently confirmed and reported.

Their estimate is based on an assumed death rate, in relation to our state's current number of deaths and confirmed cases. The postdoctoral students involved are quick to point out that number is similar in both New York and Washington and has to do with the lack of testing and the amount of people who are asymptomatic.

The study though, focuses mostly on the impact face masks could have on COVID-19. The postdoctoral students and professors used complex statistical models to simulate different scenarios - with the different variables being contact rate mask effectiveness, and the percentage of people wearing masks in public.

The study found masks can have a significant impact, especially if they are widely adopted and used alongside social distancing.

"The more that people use them, the better it is for everyone in the community. This matters whether you are currently healthy or currently sick, and this is true even if the masks are relatively ineffective," said Steffen Eikenberry, a postdoctoral scholar in the school of mathematical and statistical sciences and one of the main authors of the study.

The numbers are just predictions, and just estimates based on simulations and available data, but Eikenberry and his team believe widespread use of masks could save lots of lives.

"It could be as little as a few percent to as much as 50 plus percent depending on these background assumptions," he said. "In the worst-case scenario, you may only see a couple percentage reduction but that still in terms of absolute lives may actually be quite a few lives, hundreds to thousands of lives."

Eikenberry told ABC15 it is important that people save the highest quality, N-95 masks for the medical professionals on the frontlines. But even if your mask is homemade or a surgical mask, it is worth putting on before heading out the door.

"Everyone should use them. Not just people that think they are vulnerable," said Eikenberry.