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Face mask use during the COVID-19 pandemic: how risk perception, experience with COVID-19, and attitude towards government interact with country-wide policy stringency

PublicationWorking paper

Abstract

Background

During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, governments imposed numerous regulations to protect public health, particularly the (mandatory) use of face masks. However, the appropriateness and effectiveness of face mask regulations have been widely discussed, as is apparent from the divergent measures taken across and within countries over time, including mandating, recommending, and discouraging their use. In this study, we analyse how country-level policy stringency and individual-level predictors associate with face mask use during the early stages of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Method

First, we study how (self and other-related) risk perception, (direct and indirect) experience with COVID-19, attitude towards government and policy stringency shape face mask use. Second, we study whether there is an interaction between policy stringency and the individual-level variables. We conduct multilevel analyses exploiting variation in face mask regulations across countries and using data from approximately 7000 students collected in the beginning of the pandemic (weeks 17 through 19, 2020).

Results

We show that policy stringency is strongly positively associated with face mask use. We find a positive association between self-related risk perception and mask use, but no relationship of mask use with experience with COVID-19 and attitudes towards government. However, in the interaction analyses, we find that government trust and perceived clarity of communication moderate the link between stringency and mask use, with positive government perceptions relating to higher use in countries with regulations and to lower use in countries without regulations.

Conclusions

We highlight that those countries that aim for widespread use of face masks should set strict measures, stress self-related risks of COVID-19, and use clear communication.

Wismans, A., van der Zwan, P., Wennberg, K., Franken, I., Mukerjee, J., Baptista, R., … & Thurik, R. (2022). Face mask use during the COVID-19 pandemic: how risk perception, experience with COVID-19, and attitude towards government interact with country-wide policy stringency. BMC public health, 22(1), 1-14.

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