Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Face masks for the public during covid-19

Urgency and uncertainty: covid-19, face masks, and evidence informed policy

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: (Published 26 May 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m2017
  1. Graham P Martin, director of research1,
  2. Esmée Hanna, reader in health and wellbeing in society2,
  3. Robert Dingwall, consulting sociologist and professor of sociology3
  1. 1Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, Clifford Allbutt Building, Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Cambridge CB2 0AH, UK
  2. 2Institute of Allied Health Sciences, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK
  3. 3Dingwall Enterprises and Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
  1. graham.martin{at}

As the covid-19 crisis deepens, Greenhalgh and colleagues say that policy makers should encourage the public to wear face masks.1 Given the urgency of the situation, they argue that any downsides to such a move would be heavily outweighed by the benefits. We think that the potential negative unintended consequences of a policy shift deserve more consideration.

First, the technical challenges in mass mask adoption should not be underestimated. Even healthcare workers can struggle with …

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