The University of Florida led the way in indoor mask compliance among six universities participating in a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of mask use on campuses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At UF, 98% of those observed wore a mask, and 95% of those wore their mask correctly. The study found mask use was high overall on the campuses, with 94% of people wearing masks indoors and nearly 92% of mask wearers wearing them properly. The findings appear in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
“This study shows us that the university’s messaging about the need to wear a mask has been really effective,” said Cindy Prins, Ph.D., M.P.H., UF’s principal investigator for the study and an associate professor of epidemiology and assistant dean for education at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions. “We also see faculty, staff and students in all areas who are modeling that behavior, and that has helped make it a norm. It’s just expected that you are going to wear your mask on the UF campus.”
The study also helps dispel the notion that most college students aren’t heeding recommendations to limit COVID-19 transmission, Prins said.
“What we have seen in popular media is a very visible, but small, proportion of students who are maybe going out to bars or gathering without masks,” said Prins, the infection preventionist for UF Health Screen, Test & Protect. “But if you look at the overall population on campus, I do think this is reflective that the majority of students are taking precautions. It’s encouraging.”
Previous studies of mask use among people age 18 to 29 have relied on self-reported data and indicated mask use ranging from 69% to 86%. The CDC campus mask study used trained observers to measure the proportion of people wearing masks, the type of material used in the mask and if the mask was worn correctly by covering the wearer’s nose and mouth and being properly secured.
Data were collected from observations of 17,200 people at six universities with mask mandates. In addition to UF, these included Auburn University, Colorado State University, the University of Georgia, the University of Pikeville in Kentucky and West Virginia University. During the collection period, which ranged from two to eight weeks of the fall semester, observers recorded mask use at various campus and close-to-campus locations, such as grocery stores, on different days and times.
At UF, a team of 14 undergraduate and graduate students from public health and health science disciplines recorded mask use of 438 people at 10 on-campus and nearby off-campus sites over two weeks beginning in early November.
The UF team is continuing to track mask usage in the spring semester.
“The level of mask compliance demonstrated by this study gives us confidence that in addition to the other precautions we have in place for the spring, including physical distancing, increased COVID-19 testing, continued contact tracing and daily classroom cleanings, the risk of transmission in classrooms and other academic settings is extremely low,” said Michael Lauzardo, M.D., M.Sc., director of UF Health Screen, Test & Protect and deputy director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute.