Topics: COVID-19, Miller College of Business, Research

November 12, 2020

During the early stages of the pandemic, some people were more likely to wear masks than others, says a Ball State University researcher.

A survey of 838 adults found that the people most likely to mask up were women, older adults, African-Americans, Hispanics, and low-income employees forced to work outside the home, said Diana Saiki, a Ball State fashion merchandising professor. Saiki was part of a team of researchers that conducted the largest and earliest examination of the issue.

The motivation to wear masks among certain disadvantaged groups included reports of higher COVID-19-related morbidity and mortality, the general lack of ability to pay for healthcare, and fear of catastrophic consequences, she said.

“During the early stages of the pandemic, most people were doing all they could to stay safe,” said Saiki, who noted masks soon became politicized. “However, our study also found that some young people and men disregarded protective measures such as masks and gloves.”

The findings are in the study “Masks, Gloves, and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Rapid Assessment of Public Behaviors in the United States,” which was recently posted by Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MPDI), a publisher of open-access scientific journals. Saiki conducted the study with Jay Kandiah, interim dean of the Ball State College of Health, and former Ball State researcher Jagdish Khubchandani, who is now at New Mexico State University.

The study's purpose was to conduct a rapid national assessment of public behaviors to prevent COVID-19 spread during the early stages of the pandemic and assess how these behaviors may have differed based on selected sociodemographic characteristics.

Saiki noted the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a national emergency in the U.S. in March. Within a month, government authorities issued recommendations on the use of masks and gloves as protective measures. Despite such recommendations, many media reports highlighted a lack of compliance.

The study found that the majority of the study participants reported wearing a mask during the pandemic (76%), but only 30% reported wearing gloves. 

The following groups reported a higher prevalence of mask-wearing compared to their counterparts: females (82%), divorced/widowed (85%), living with family members (81%), unemployed (85%), non-Hispanics (79%), and those older than 36 years of age (81%).

Similarly, for gloves, the following groups were significantly more likely to report wearing such protection during the pandemic compared to their counterparts: females (59%), divorced/widowed (54%), unemployed (38%), and those younger than 36 years of age (35%).

The study also found that while there was no statistically significant difference based on region, individuals from the Northeastern U.S. had the highest prevalence of wearing a mask (81%) or gloves (36%) during the pandemic.

Researchers pointed out that additional studies are now needed on mask-wearing in light of quarantine fatigue, the rising number of cases of COVID-19, attitudinal and behavioral factors, myths and rumors about masks, and types of masks being used in the general population.