People on and around the University of Michigan campus have a very high rate of mask use to prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to observations made at 18 indoor and outdoor locations over the past six weeks.
In all, 94% of people observed by student researchers as part of a national project in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wore a mask, and all but 7% of them wore the mask correctly over both their mouth and nose. The data come from 1,704 observations made from February 8 through March 20.
U-M and the state of Michigan both require masks be worn indoors at public locations and businesses, and U-M requires masks on all of its property, both indoors and outdoors. Off campus, state public health rules do not require someone to wear a mask outdoors when they can maintain six feet of distance from others, and under a few other circumstances.
In the observations made on and near the U-M campus, 98% of individuals wore masks at the indoor locations, while 87% wore them outdoors. The observers could not tell if the passers-by they observed were students, faculty, staff, vendors, or community members. Some observation points were on public streets within a few blocks of the campus; outdoor mask wearing was a few points higher at the outdoor on-campus locations than the outdoor off-campus ones.
Tammy Chang, M.D., M.S., assistant professor, leads the U-M-based team taking part in CDC’s Mask Adherence Surveillance at Colleges and Universities Project (MASCUP!). The project, now under way at 60 campuses across the country, recently reported results from a pilot project conducted last fall at six colleges and universities, not including U-M.
Observations will continue through mid-April, and this article will be updated with new data at the end of the project.
“We know that masks work to protect both the wearer and the people around them from coronavirus transmission, and these data show that on and near the U-M campus, the vast majority of people are wearing masks, and wearing them correctly,” says Chang, who specializes in studying health behaviors and attitudes among teens and young adults. “This indicates a strong sense of safety and responsibility among the people we observed, which is something that I think is important for our local community and as people decide if they want to come back to campus when it is allowed.”
Currently, U-M and many other universities are holding most classes online, but some in-person learning and activities such as sports are allowed if public health guidance is followed. Residence halls are at greatly reduced capacity but many students live off-campus. Planning is under way for in-person instruction, residence hall occupancy and activities in the fall.
Chang notes that the data from the study cannot be used to draw a straight line between mask use in Ann Arbor and cases of COVID-19, because no observations were made in private residential settings nor outside the immediate campus area. But she and her team have provided their data on a regular basis to the Washtenaw County Health Department and the UM COVID-19 Campus Health Response Committee since the observations began in February.
The more-contagious strain of the novel coronavirus known as the “UK variant” was confirmed to have arrived in Michigan via a person who traveled from Great Britain to Ann Arbor in January. This prompted a “stay in place” order for U-M students to avoid gatherings and non-essential trips out of their residence that ended February 7, just before the MASCUP! observations began.
The observation period occurred after the CDC issued new mask-wearing guidance that emphasized multiple-layer cloth masks, and high-quality disposable masks often used in medical settings, and recommended against single-layer gaiter-style face coverings and face shields worn alone. In all, 53% of the people observed in Ann Arbor wore cloth masks, and 35% wore disposable medical-procedure masks. Just under 4% wore gaiters.
Marika Waselewski, M.P.H., a research specialist on Chang’s research team, says “It’s good to see in hard data what I’ve generally observed, that students and people near campus are doing the right thing and what they’re supposed to be doing.”
The team of 19 students from across U-M who are working with Chang and Waselewski received special training to standardize the way they make and record observations. They use a web-based interface managed by the CDC, and feed their data directly to the national study. U-M School of Public Health associate professor Emily Toth Martin, Ph.D., is also part of the team.
“We need to empower students to be change agents in COVID-19, and active in the response to a pandemic that has changed their lives,” says Chang. “We need to understand how it is affecting them, and give them opportunities to make a difference in small and large ways.”