Mask Myth Busted? New Research Reveals That Wearing Face Masks Did Not Reduce Risk of COVID Infection After First Omicron Wave

Man Putting on COVID Face Mask

Research from the University of East Anglia reveals that wearing face masks did not significantly reduce Covid-19 infection risk following the initial Omicron surge. The study analyzed changes in infection risk factors as the pandemic evolved, noting that factors like mask usage, household size, and occupational exposure varied in significance over time. Funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, the study emphasizes the need for adaptable risk management strategies and further research to understand these dynamics.

A new study indicates that face masks did not significantly lower Covid-19 infection risk after the initial Omicron wave, highlighting the need for adaptable strategies and further research as risk factors evolve.

New findings from the University of East Anglia suggest that wearing face masks did not reduce the risk of Covid infection after the initial rise of the Omicron variant. An analysis of official data indicated that the risk factors for infection changed notably when the dominant Covid variant in the UK shifted from Delta to Omicron in December 2021.

These included wearing a mask, a history of foreign travel, household size, whether people were working or retired, and contact with children or over-70s.

Lead author Professor Paul Hunter, of Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia (UEA), said: “Early in the pandemic there were many studies published looking at risk factors for catching Covid, but far fewer studies after the first year or so. Our research shows that there were changes in some risk factors around the time that the Omicron BA.2 variant became dominant.”

Co-author Dr. Julii Brainard, of UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “This isn’t totally surprising because laboratory evidence suggests that the Omicron variant was better able to infect the cells lining the upper respiratory tract than previous variants and so be more transmissible. Management of infection risk needs to be agile, adapting to epidemic development and better-quality information when it emerges. To prevent infections we need to have a good view of which factors might be most or least relevant. If those factors can change, we need to be alert to that happening.”

Methodology and Key Findings from the Data

The researchers analyzed data available from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Covid survey in England, which compared infection rates with an ongoing household survey of the population to estimate how many people had infections. From November 2021 to May 2022, the ONS also asked people questions about their circumstances and habits to see if those factors could be linked to the risk of positivity.

Professor Hunter added: “We used this dataset to look for constancy or change in the importance and direction of potential risk factors for testing positive. We applied a statistical method called meta-regression to do this.”

The study found that changes to risk factors included:

  • In November 2021, always wearing face masks at work, school, or in enclosed spaces was associated with a reduced risk of being infected in both adults and children, but after the first Omicron wave, it was not.
  • Living in a house with five or more people was a risk at the beginning but by the end of the study period, people in larger households (four and above) had negligibly greater risk than people living in singleton households.
  • Early overseas travel was not associated with increased risk, but later on, it was.
  • Working in health or social care or in contact with others, was often found to be important in the first year of the pandemic, but was not associated with an overall higher or changing risk of infection in the study period.
  • Being of ethnic minority was strongly associated with increased risk in the first few months of the UK epidemic, but was associated with lower risk and no significant trend change during the study’s full monitoring period.
  • Being retired was associated with reduced risk compared to those in work overall, but any protective effect had disappeared by February 27, 2022, which coincided with the start of the second Omicron wave.
  • By the end of February 2022, it became apparent that there was a decrease in risk for adults living with children aged 16 or under.
  • People under 70 who lived with someone aged 70 or older initially had a lower likelihood of testing positive, but this protective effect diminished by about mid-February, 2022.

The researchers said the balance of evidence is that wearing face coverings reduces transmission of respiratory infections in community settings and reduces transmission of Covid-19. The question, however, is by how much.

Conclusion and Implications for Future Research

A systematic review of pre-pandemic evidence and analysis of original survey data during the COVID-19 pandemic both indicated that mask-wearing could or did reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by about 19pc. But these conclusions were derived mainly from data prior to the emergence of Omicron variants.

This latest research found that prior to Omicron BA.2, never wearing a mask was associated with an increased risk of around 30pc in adults and 10pc in children. But by the second Omicron wave (mid to late February 2022 onwards) there was no protective effect from mask-wearing in adults and possibly an increased risk of infection in children.

Professor Paul Hunter commented: “It should not be a surprise that risk factors change during a pandemic due to a highly infectious disease with a short duration of immunity like Covid. So-called SEIRS (Susceptible, Exposed, Infected, Recovered, Susceptible) models of epidemics predict that as such an infection becomes endemic risk factors that powered the epidemic in its early stages become less important and the rate at which people lose immunity becomes more important in driving infection rates.”

Dr Brainard added: “A lot of potential risk factors for catching Covid didn’t change during this period, and that’s important to know too. We offer some possible explanations for why the changes may have happened, but we would need more focused research to understand for sure why there were changes in some risk factors.”

Reference: “Changing risk factors for developing SARS-CoV-2 infection from Delta to Omicron” by Paul R. Hunter and Julii Brainard, 15 May 2024, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0299714

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King’s College London in partnership with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and in collaboration with the University of East Anglia.

29 Comments on "Mask Myth Busted? New Research Reveals That Wearing Face Masks Did Not Reduce Risk of COVID Infection After First Omicron Wave"

  1. I suspect that the reasons masks don’t work for most people is just that most people didn’t use good, properly fitting masks. Air takes the path of least resistance. If there are gaps, the air will pass through them. Surgical masks, cloth masks, and so on, don’t fit properly and don’t filter well. You need a good N95 mask, preferably something like the Aura mask, which fits securely. And you need to bend the nose part to conform to the shape of your nose bridge. You need a good seal all the way around. And if you are a man with a beard, you won’t get good filtering performance, since the beard hairs prevent a good seal. I am not at all surprised at these findings. Most people wore worthless masks and didn’t even use those properly, often leaving their noses out or whatever.

    • To get your argument straight: you are saying that before Omicron, people wore well-fitted, effective masks, but after Omicron they stopped doing that?
      Surely *some* people wore well-fitted, effective masks after Omicron? If so, what changed, if not, how do you explain it?

      • I have no idea why the difference after Omicron. My argument only concerned the general effectiveness of good masks with good practices versus bad mask and bad practices.

        I would suspect that by the time of the second Omicron wave, people were dealing with a lot of pandemic fatigue and were generally more lax in every way, including how they used their masks. Probably the masks were older and more used and worn out on average. People probably didn’t wear them as systematically and carefully. There was more fear in the earlier stages of the pandemic. I know I was taking greater precautions then, especially when we didn’t know whether, for example, we could get it from touching contaminated objects, and so on. Everyone was more lax later on.

        I don’t know why exactly Omicron variants are more infectious. Maybe they can cause infection with smaller initial viral loads. Perhaps an imperfect mask was good enough to prevent a large viral load, which maybe prevented infection with earlier variants, but not with the more infectious Omicron variants. I don’t know. I can only speculate.

    • THANK YOU!

  2. The misleading clickbait title is all most people will read leading to anti-maskers/vaxers to feel justified in disregarding any guidance in the future. You also ignore that by mid 2021 most people had given up on safety. This study seems to be self reported. Nearly everyone I saw that swore they wore their masks constantly really wore it a fraction of the time often wearing it as a chin strap. And even if they’re wearing masks correctly, they were surrounded by more and more mask less people in more and more social events.

  3. I agree to a point.., the quality is the basis for the protection.. This study is only based on one UK scientist interpretation.. not what other countries endured.. In the early stages any and all types of masks were introduced and the better n95 came forward but not everyone could get them.. By the time folks could get them they were being vaccinated which made the mask mute, so the data is conflicted based on what hasn’t been reported vs other countries data and how they’ve interpreted it.

  4. S. Shaun Kurultay | May 19, 2024 at 11:20 pm | Reply

    With deep regrets I read that Title above as it is catchy, misleading misinformation.
    I regret more I read this here, under “Sci-Tech Daily” which I respected.
    There is literally ZERO evidence and a poorest study with manipulating theories, utterly lack of science and proper research!

  5. This article as presented, without the complexity of co-founders being adequately explained in dangerous! Covid was devastating, but more pandemics will occur. Think of it H5N1(with high human to human transmission) or some
    hemorrhagic virus, MERV,
    etc. I wonder what the MMA fighters, NFL quarterbacks and talk show host will do when we revert to the dark ages. We often forget 541,1347,1666 just to give a few dates. Scitechdaily please be more responsible and honest in your article selection. Smacks of yellow journalism.

  6. JFC maga has infected everything. I suggest the authors go ahead and not wear masks should another outbreak happen. Stupidity needs to be culled.

    • FrequentFlyer | May 20, 2024 at 8:36 am | Reply

      You should make sure to continue getting those vax boosters.

      Your stupidity needs to be culled.

  7. FrequentFlyer | May 20, 2024 at 8:35 am | Reply

    Man some of the posters here really are ignorant or stupid.

    Masks did not work because the virus is smaller than what a mask can filter/stop.

    What did the masks prove?
    Whos naive, gullible, and stupid enough to follow direction without thought or question.

    I mean your posts prove this.
    Even with proof the masks did not work you still have the moronic zealots here claiming otherwise and wishing harm on those who dont wear masks.

    I’m sure these people are vaxxed and boosted too. Probably still would line up to take more.
    Even though it has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, around the world in multiple countries, the vaccines and boosters did NOTHING to stop or prevent the spread AND had risks of severe side effects INCLUDING DEATH.

    • Wandering Stranger | May 20, 2024 at 9:13 am | Reply

      Virus are attached to other particles, mostly water. Though you are correct that the COVID 19 virus particle size at 0.125 microns is smaller than the N95 filter of 0.3 microns, the particles that the virus travels on will generally be 1.0 microns or greater.

      Even particles smaller than 0.3 microns can be filtered by an N95 mask via electrostatic absorption and Brownian motion.

      If the headline of this article had instead read more accurately: “Wearing Face Masks Reduced Risk of COVID Infection Until After First Omicron Wave” would you have even clicked on it?

      I suggest expanding your research.

    • “Masks did not work because the virus is smaller than what a mask can filter/stop.”

      This is not true. N95 masks are standardly known to filter particles in the size range of 0.1 to 0.3 microns with a high degree of success. The coronavirus is about 0.1 micron. But furthermore, what floats around in the air and gets inhaled isn’t a single, bare virus. How would that even happen? What gets expelled when people sneeze, cough, or talk, are respiratory droplets of fluid that contain some virus. Those droplets are much bigger than that size range of 0.1 to 0.3 microns.

      It also should be understood that the filtering mechanism is not just a matter of hole size. There is also the matter of electrostatic attraction. The filtering material is designed to be electrostatically attractive to these particles. As they are passing near a fiber, they are attracted to it and stick there.

      “Even with proof the masks did not work”

      Show me proof that good N95 masks (like the 3M Aura), worn properly, with a good seal all the way around, do not work.

      • Not sure if what you say is accurate in any way since you provide 0 reference to any scientific study, it’s just believe me because I say so. I know it requires a deep dive, light-headed minded people never do that. Perhaps you have a brain-fog problem ? Did you check your brain? I’m serious about that, it’s a known and documented side-effect of mrna gene therapies sold as vaccines.

        But that’s not the point, ONLY USELESS MASKS WERE MANDATORY, in all the countries I know. So what is the point of your argument ? Policy was useless, stupid, discriminatory and non-sensical. How what you wrote change this obvious deduction ?

        • Why the nasty tone and insults? Don’t we have enough hateful hyperpolarization nowadays? It is completely counterproductive and doesn’t help convince anyone who isn’t already part of your political tribe. It only reinforces a negative perception of your side. People on the fence will likely be turned off by it.

          I agree with you that only useless masks were mandatory. My whole point has been that the masks that most people wore were not very protective, and that this was made worse by the way most people used them. If it is the case that masks, as used, proved ineffective, I argue that this isn’t evidence that all masks are always useless. It is still possible that good masks, intelligently used, are highly effective at preventing infection. I am convinced that they are.

          Also, as for the vaccines. I agree that the vaccines are not perfectly harmless. They bring risks. And it is better if you never have any reason to get them. However, the real virus causes all the same problems as the vaccines and at much higher rates. All in all, especially with the earlier variants, it made sense to get vaccinated, since the risks involved with infection for unvaccinated people were much higher than for the vaccinated. And exposure to the real virus was eventually inevitable for everyone.

          I personally knew a number of people who refused the vaccine who died from COVID, all of these from the delta variant, which is no longer circulating much. One other, my sister, got long COVID and suffers still from its effects. The symptoms include heavy brain fog and fatigue. Nobody I know who got vaccinated had any serious illness. Further, none of the people I know have suffered any complications or obvious problems from the vaccines.

          I hope you have a nice day.

        • Thanks for your reply. I really didn’t mean to offend, but man when you deal with horrific side effects of vaccines (that includes Death) there’s no way to not feel a bit “off” by it.
          It’s a nasty ugly truth.

          Now without going into which masks is “more effective” than others, keep in mind that masks are used in hospital mainly to prevent infectious people from spreading droplets. Surgeons use them for the same purpose, to not spoil the patient that he just cut open.

          Now regarding MRNA gene therapies that have been sold as vaccines and are factually a GMO put on the market without lawful due process. How not stopping transmission and sickness makes a good medical product to stop an epidemic ? It’s useless.

          And again the fact that you don’t know people who had side effects doesn’t mean much. If I had I wouldn’t tell you if you were an acquaintance. And the dead don’t speak volume as well about what caused or preceded their death, they are kind of silent.

          And I didn’t even mention that it’s not very difficult to not listen to people who are not fitting your ideology and narrative. People do that all the time to prevent mental collapse.

          Not long ago such individuals were shamed, and their testimony censored, and their accounts suspended. Why the censorship if there’s nothing to it ? I thought it would have been cheaper to study the phenomenon, if there’s nothing to it it would have been cleared once for all.

          Sadly, the testimonies keeps persisting and increasing each day.

          I advise you to go back from the realm of ideology narratives to the realm of the truth.

          Open your eyes, it’s your opportunity to AWAKEN!

          Have a nice day to you!

  8. So you think the Delta virus was big enough to be stopped by a mask and the Omicron virus was small enough to not be??? If not then how do you explain masks reducing risk pre-Omicron?

  9. The click-bait title and subject matter of the article don’t match. This is highly irresponsible and sinks any respect I may have had for this platform.

  10. If it took 4 years to figure out such a trivial thing that masks don’t work against viruses (given that even microbes go trough), no wonder the West is uncompetitive. Shame Shame Shame

  11. Come on SciTech do better. This article actually contradicts itself. Click bate and great fodder for antivaxxers.

    Poor mask quality, poor mask SOPs/ offing and donning definitely equated to poor protection. By 22 many people had given up protecting themselves. I was in and out of medical settings all pandemic. Only caught it in 24 at a social event with no masks. Go figure.

  12. This is a terrible headlie and a worse article. What kind of masks? Since they didn’t even mention this critical fact, nothing in this study can be trusted. Moreover, they have no idea whatsoever about how often quality mask, worn properly and properly fitted, were actually worn whenever anyone was in close proximity to anyone else. Asking people to “remember” isn’t scientific. I find this article absolutely useless, disingenuous and ripe for further misinformation and understanding. Exactly who is the editor of this website? Do they even bother to read the useless crap that gets posted here?

  13. Dominique, FrequentFlyer, you two idiots go on ignore from here on out. You lack scientific understanding and any credibility and clearly belong to the connedspiracy crowd of useless fools polluting any discourse or quest for factual knowledge.

  14. W Penn Handwerker | May 22, 2024 at 1:53 am | Reply

    An article published in Epidemiology & Infection 151, e194, 1-5 shows that masks PROMOTE infection

  15. S. Shaun Kurultay | May 22, 2024 at 6:47 pm | Reply

    Prof. Hunter may want to have a look on this article.
    This one shows how it’s supposed to be done:

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