Data also showed that infection rates didn't increase when mask mandates were not in place in National Health Service (NHS) facilities amid a surge of omicron cases.
Despite the data proving that face masks were ineffective, health experts argue that this does not mean face masks are "worthless."
They also asked for "rational and proportionate" masking policies in hospitals for future coronavirus flare-ups due to the alleged "modest" benefits.
During the height of the pandemic, governments across the globe, like the U.K. and the U.S., forced citizens to wear face masks in indoor public spaces.
But many questioned the mask mandates because rigorous trials have already shown that they are ineffective. As of writing, some hospitals still require patients to wear face masks before entering, even though it is no longer legally required.
For the study, scientists from St. George's Hospital in South West London reviewed routinely collected infection control data over a 40-week period between December 4, 2021 and September 10, 2022. (Related: Lancet study DEBUNKS CDC argument for mask mandates in schools.)
The period marked the time between the first week omicron became the dominant COVID-19 variant and the week universal polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 screening tests were discontinued.
From Dec. 4, 2021, to June 1, 2022, which was the first phase of the study, all hospital staff and visitors were required to wear masks in both clinical and non-clinical areas.
By phase two, the mandate was lifted and decisions about mask policy were left up to individual hospitals.
According to reports, high-risk wards, such as those treating cancer patients and intensive care units (ICUs), retained mask mandates.
Researchers reported that lifting mask mandates in phase two did not produce a "statistically significant change" in the hospital-acquired COVID-19 infection rate. Additionally, they did not "observe a delayed effect" in the COVID-19 infection rate once the policy was lifted even though transmission of the virus was spiking within the community.
Those in high-risk wards – considered the control group for the study – continued wearing masks. Data from the study showed that there was "no immediate or delayed change in infection rate."
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, face masks were considered an effective virus-prevention measure. But in countries like the U.K. and the U.S., masks have become a prominent symbol of the COVID-19 culture wars.
Adding to the anxiety of the public were officials often giving mixed messages about their effectiveness during the early days of the pandemic. People also remained skeptical about face masks because studies failed to conclusively show that wearing them could prevent coronavirus infections.
In February, the Cochrane Institute conducted one of the most comprehensive meta-analyses of face coverings to date. Data showed that masks made "little to no difference" to coronavirus infection or death rates.
The scientists added that the new U.K. study had potential limitations like other observational studies, such as not being able to determine staff infection rates and not assessing adherence to mask mandates.
Dr. Ben Patterson, the study's lead author, said the study didn't find any evidence that "mandatory masking of staff impacts the rate of hospital SARS-CoV-2 infection with the omicron variant."
Dr. Aodhan Breathnach, another researcher who took part in the study, added that several other hospitals have retained masking at "significant financial and environmental cost and despite the substantial barrier to communication."
Breathnach concluded that the results of their study can be used to "help inform a rational and proportionate mask policy in health services."
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