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Life in the Time of Covid-19: Use of Masks


One of the most alarming aspects of the COVID-19 virus is data that suggests that the virus can be spread by those who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic; that is, people can spread the virus to others without realizing they are ill. 

As early as January 24, 2020, some health agencies (e.g., in Hong Kong) called for mask-wearing in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly in locations where social distancing might be difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery or other types of stores).  In the US, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began recommending the use of cloth face coverings in public settings on April 3, 2020.

Are Americans following the CDC’s guidance?  IntelliSurvey’s ‘Life in the Time of COVID-19’ online surveys, conducted weekly during the month of April suggests that this practice is, indeed, on the rise.

Mask Usage Steadily on the Rise

In all four of the April 2020 surveys, participants were asked about the precautions they take when shopping, including the use of purchased and/or homemade masks. 

Early in the month (April 3), a little over one third of all participants (37%) indicated that while shopping, they wear either a purchased mask or one they made themselves.

By April 10, more than half (58%) of the survey respondents reported that they wear masks while shopping, and by April 17, that number increased to 68%.

In the most recent survey, conducted on April 24, more than three-quarters of all respondents (76%) indicate that they wear a mask while shopping.  Across all four waves of the study, purchased masks were more commonly worn than homemade masks.

Usage Varies by Region

COVID-19 has impacted regions of the U.S. differently, with the Northeast region particularly hard-hit to date.  In the past three weeks, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have had the largest reported number of both cases and deaths from the virus.

Not surprisingly, as shown in the following chart, in all but one of the four weekly surveys, respondents who live in the Northeast report the highest usage of masks when shopping.  As of the last survey on April 24, more than 9 in 10 (91%) of those in the Northeast indicate that they use a mask when shopping.

High numbers of those in the Western region of the country are also conscientious about wearing masks, with more than three quarters (76%) reporting most recently that they wear masks when shopping.  Although participants in the Midwest and South lagged behind in usage earlier in the month, currently more than 7 in 10 now wear masks to shop (71% and 73%, respectively).

Did You Get the Message?

In all four U.S. surveys during the month of April, participants were asked “How long do you think a person can carry the virus without showing any signs?” 

Although it has been widely publicized, particularly during the month of April, that asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people can transmit the COVID-19 virus to others, there are still some people who do not appear to have received that message.

As shown below, between 11% and 13% of all participants each wave do not believe that a person can carry the virus without showing any symptoms.  In actuality, people who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic can spread the virus for up to 14 days after being infected.

Be Safe:  Social Distance and/or Wear a Mask

The COVID-19 virus is insidious and can be deadly.  Contrary to what some of our survey participants believe, it is possible to spread it to others even if you do not have any symptoms, or before you begin to show symptoms.  When possible, stay at least 6 feet away from others, and protect the people around you by wearing a mask if you are shopping or somewhere else where it is difficult to maintain social distancing.

For information on making your own mask, even if you don’t know how to sew,  click here.

Respondents for this survey were collected via Lucid Marketplace.

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