LUBBOCK, Texas — Texas Tech’s Department of Environmental Toxicology released a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health on the effectiveness of mask mandates during the pandemic.

Tech Professor of Advanced Materials Dr. Seshadri Ramkumar worked with doctoral student James Ayodeji for approximately seven months to examine how COVID-19 data trends in states that implemented mask mandates throughout the pandemic in 2020. 

“In that time of the severe pandemic, this was one of the first lines of defense,” said Ramkumar. “The simple things which we take for granted – a face mask – made out of cotton, can save lives, nobody knew.”

Their research backed up just how effective masks can be as a public health tool. 

“We have looked at the efficacy of facemask mandates on curtailing the COVID infection rates in 32 states from April 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020,” said Ramkumar. “The whole three quarters where the surge was ongoing after WHO declared this pandemic in March of last year.”

The majority of states in the study saw a reduction in COVID-19 cases within three to four weeks after implementing the mandate. 

“We looked at this important data and found that two thirds of the states are able to reduce the infection rates after the mandate has been implemented,” said Ramkumar.

Researchers said a lack of compliance could have played a role for the one third of states where cases increased. Lack of compliance could mean that folks weren’t wearing masks properly or that they weren’t wearing them all the time.

 However, that doesn’t mean mask wearing didn’t have any impact in those places.

“Even with the facemask mandates and other preventive measures, the infection rates were going up,” said Ramkumar. “Imagine if we didn’t have these prevention measures, cases would have been skyrocketing.”

Considering that the virus was so new to us, there was a lot we didn’t know at first.

“We’ve never done universal masking or talked about masking in the United States,” said Lubbock Director of Public Health Katherine Wells.

These findings, along with those proven in other studies, are the first of their kind — making this information especially valuable. It’s likely to have a lasting impact on public health.

“It just really gives us a better understanding of that, you know if that cotton mask or whatever type of mask people are wearing – what’s most effective,” said Wells.

This study is already being used by Dr. Ramkumar and his doctoral students to learn how to further improve mask effectiveness.

“This is a step towards future materials research in protecting people,” said Ramkumar. “And we may not have the same kind of pandemic we may now have, but we will have some solid data.”

Although Texas no longer has a mask mandate, public health experts are still encouraging everyone to continue to wear masks as we work toward herd immunity.