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Global Trends of Mask Usage in 19 Million Adults

Faculty Associate Frauke Kreuter and colleagues are using large scale data gathered on Facebook to get a sense of public understanding about mask-wearing

Researchers from the University of Maryland’s Social Data Science Center (SoDa) are working with colleagues from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Facebook to evaluate public attitudes about mask wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic. They find that public understanding on the global adoption of mask-wearing behavior to prevent COVID-19 transmission is inadequate.

To better understand the global trends of mask usage, the research team used data from the International COVID-19 Symptom Survey, which is a large daily survey in partnership between the University of Maryland and Facebook Data for Good. It includes responses from 19 million adults aged 18 years or older living in 114 countries and territories so far. Sampled Facebook users are invited to participate in the survey via an invitation at the top of their News Feed, and the surveys are conducted and collected from the Facebook app by the University of Maryland.

“Despite the intention and efforts of mask mandates and public service announcements, we have found that - compared to the growing list of efforts that support the widespread usage of masks - public understanding on the global adoption of mask-wearing behavior has been relatively inadequate to this public health crisis,” said Professor Kreuter, director of SoDa and of UMD’s Joint Program in Survey Methodology.

From April 2020 until present the survey asked participants, “In the last 7 days, how often did you wear a mask when in public? The trends over the last five months demonstrate that in certain regions, including Asia and Central and South America, there was a consistently high prevalence (>75%) of mask usage, while in Northern Europe there was a consistently low prevalence (<25%) of mask usage. In some countries, the researchers observed an increase over time, which may reflect the rising cases of COVID-19 or mask-related mandates and recommendations.

Geographically aggregated survey map, world

Geographically aggregated survey map, domestic USA (courtesy Carnegie Mellon)

Social Data report on Global Trends in Mask Wearing