How masks potentially saved 139 clients from Covid-19 at a US hairdresser

  • While some sectors of the economy reopens, wearing a mask in public can reduce infection risk
  • In Missouri, 139 clients came into contact with two hairstylists, who both had Covid-19
  • None of the clients got ill – probably because they all wore masks

As Covid-19 case numbers are rising in South Africa, wearing your mask in public spaces is now more important than ever. In the UK, the government recently backtracked on their previous stance and also made it mandatory for the public to wear masks inside shops and on public transport.

As hair salons are now permitted to trade in South Africa under level 3 lockdown conditions, wearing a mask is one of the vital safety regulations that should be followed. And according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control in the US, a potentially dangerous outbreak was avoided at a hair salon in Missouri – thanks to masks.

Mandatory masks probably reduced infection limit

In May 2020, 139 clients interacted with two hairstylists in Springfield, Missouri, who both tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Despite the fact that they spent time in close proximity to their clients, none of them ended up with Covid-19.

While the team behind the study is not exactly sure what contributed to the absence of Covid-19 among the clients that came into contact with the two sick stylists, they attribute this to the role of mandatory face coverings. This plays a big role as hairstylists work in close proximity to their clients and exposure lasts for longer than 15 minutes.

The salon had also reduced its capacity to 25% of normal.

Although we know through research that face masks can’t guarantee 100% protection against the novel coronavirus, a multi-layered mask from thick material does considerably reduce the risk of infection.

This seemed especially true in a setting where physical distancing of up to 2m is not possible. The study also notes that the hairstylists were probably at their most contagious when they were interacting with clients right before they displayed symptoms, as the viral loads are highest about two to three days before the onset of symptoms.

Study limitations

Some study limitations must be mentioned. Although the health department monitored all 139 clients, not all of them were tested for Covid-19, and some of them might have been infected with the virus, but could have remained asymptomatic.

The researchers also stated that tests might have been performed too quickly since exposure and could have delivered false-negatives. They mention the fact that hairdressers cut hair while standing behind their clients, which could also be a reason why transmission was limited.

But even if this incident was simply a case of good luck and coincidence, there is still evidence that masks, hand hygiene and ventilation can reduce infection risk, especially in industries where it’s difficult to implement physical distancing.

READ | Here are the best and worst materials for face masks

READ | Masks and Covid-19: The latest guidelines 

Image credit: Getty Images

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