Researchers from the University of Maryland’s Social Data Science Center (SoDa), working with colleagues from Facebook and from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, have found that public understanding on the global adoption of mask-wearing behavior to prevent COVID-19 transmission is inadequate, based in part on the limitations of past studies.
The research team released findings and illustrations of the study on the SoDa website; the study examined behaviors of 19 million adults worldwide.
Over the past several months, the use of a face covering or mask has been highlighted as one of the most crucial and cost-effective mitigation measures to slow the transmission of COVID-19. In addition to the recommendations and mandates for mask usage from various government and public health officials, an increasing number of scientific studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of masks and universal masking in preventing COVID-19 transmission.
“Despite the intention and efforts of mask mandates and public service announcements, we have found that—compared to the growing list of efforts that support the widespread usage of masks—public understanding on the global adoption of mask-wearing behavior has been relatively inadequate to this public health crisis,” said Professor Frauke Kreuter, director of SoDa and of UMD’s Joint Program in Survey Methodology. “We feel this phenomenon is due, in part, to the limitations of past studies which include small sample size and limited temporal and spatial coverage.”
To better understand the global trends of mask usage, the research team used data from the International COVID-19 Symptom Survey, which is a large daily survey in partnership between the University of Maryland and Facebook Data for Good, and includes responses from 19 million adults aged 18 years or older living in 114 countries and territories so far. Sampled Facebook users are invited to participate in the survey via an invitation at the top of their News Feed, and the surveys are conducted and collected off the Facebook app by The University of Maryland (previously published sampling and weighting methodology can be found here).
From April 2020 until present, the survey asked the participants, “In the last 7 days, how often did you wear a mask when in public?” In the interactive map that is featured on the SoDa website, the researchers aggregated the proportion of respondents who indicated that they wore a mask all of the time or most of the time when in public.
The trends over the last five months demonstrate that in certain regions, including Asia and Central and South America, there was a consistently high prevalence (>75%) of mask usage (see figure above for weekly trends in Colombia, Japan, and Mexico), while in Northern Europe, there was a consistently low prevalence (<25%) of mask usage (see figure above for Denmark, Finland, and Sweden). In some countries, the researchers observed an increase over time (see figure above for Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom), which may reflect the rising cases of COVID-19 or mask-related mandates and recommendations.
“It is our hope that these and related data can help inform public health communications campaigns and initiatives regarding mask wearing to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and could be used to help examine how policies relate to practice around the world,” Kreuter said.
Additional research and analysis via Carnegie Mellon University’s Delphi blog.
The Social Data Science Center (SoDa) at the University of Maryland leverages UMD’s substantial strengths in survey methods, measurement, information management, visualization, and analytics to maintain UMD as an international leader in research, education, and application of social data and measurement.