It could have been a slam-dunk, but fewer than 3 out of 4 fans at the March Madness basketball tournament wore masks correctly, a new study reports.
Mask mandates at sporting events, concerts and other large indoor gatherings play an important role in combating the spread of COVID-19, the researchers pointed out.
"With vaccination rates still low and COVID transmission ongoing, the more people that are correctly and consistently masked at large events, the better," said corresponding author Joshua Vest, a professor of health policy and management at the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis.
Masks were required for all spectators at the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament in Indiana, and multiple enforcement and social messaging measures were in place.
Even so, only 74% of fans at five games in Indianapolis were observed to be correctly masked, according to findings published Aug. 16 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Women were much more likely to wear masks correctly than men, 80% versus 69%.
The highest rates of mask use were in concession areas and at arena entrances. Compliance was lowest in arena seating areas (67%) and in upper deck seats (35%).
The researchers defined proper mask use as following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. They call for a cloth face covering or disposable surgical mask that covers the mouth and nose, including the nostrils, and extends below the chin.
"At a sporting event where the public health agencies and the venue were doing everything they could to encourage spectators to wear masks, we found that less than three out of every four spectators were correctly wearing masks, highlighting the challenge of getting the public to follow mask requirements," Vest said in an institute news release.
Senior author Dr. Peter Embí, president and CEO of the Regenstrief Institute, said the study is one of the first to provide evidence about masking behavior at large indoor events.
It provides "evidence that individuals, public health officials and policy makers need as we all work to stay safe and reduce disease spread, while also trying to enjoy events like these that have the potential to become super-spreader events," he said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on masks.
SOURCE: Regenstrief Institute, news release, Aug. 16, 2021