Association of masking policies with mask adherence and distancing during the SARS-COV-2 pandemic

Published: June 29, 2022

Dr. Deanna Hoelscher, Raja Malkani, and Kathleen Manuel from the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living collaborated on the Systematic Observation of Mask Adherence and Distancing (SOMAD) Project. Using the SOMAD protocol created by Kaiser Permanente, Studio Ludio, San Diego State University (ret), and RAND Corp, 16 faculty members and their students across the United States observed individuals in public spaces to determine the quantification of the impact of local masking policies to the SARS-COV-2 pandemic.

This study conducted observations of 109,999 individuals across 126 U.S. cities from September 2020 through August 2021. During these observations, individuals were categorized by age, gender, race and/or ethnicity, physical activity level, group size, mask adherence, and level of social distancing. These individuals were also categorized by the regional location, such as the West, Midwest, South, and Northeast parts of the United States. Of these regional categories, the West was divided into subregions such as Southern California, North California, Central California, Arizona, Montana, and Nevada.

Based on these observations, the data reflected important takeaways to consider. The first takeaway was that having a local mask mandate increased the odds of wearing a mask by 3-fold compared to areas with no policy. When it came to whether these individuals were wearing their masks properly, it was observed that correct mask adherence was observed among females, teens, and seniors. The lowest mask adherence was among non-Hispanic whites, those engaged in vigorous physical activity, and in large groups. In addition, it was observed that masking policy requirements were not associated with social distancing.

This study also provided the opportunity to apply these observations to future public health policy instances, such as assessing demographic characteristics and physical activity levels in different communities. This SOMAD study demonstrates that it is possible to develop a rapid response network and obtain cooperation from academicians and students concerned about population health. Additionally, given the continued threat of SARS-COV-2, findings from the study should be considered when developing or adopting policies to stem disease transmission.

In conclusion, this study suggests that masking mandates significantly influence people to wear masks and that having a mask mandate was the strongest factor associated with mask adherence. The strong association between mask mandates and correct mask use suggests that public policy has a powerful influence on individual behavior.

To learn more about the association of masking policies with mask adherence and distancing during the SARS-COV-2 pandemic, read the full article here.