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OBJECTIVE: Non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), including wearing face covering/masks, social distancing and working from home, have been introduced to control SARS-CoV-2 infections. We provide individual-level empirical evidence of whether adherence reduces infections. SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: The COVID-19 Infection Study (CIS) was used from 10 May 2020 to 2 February 2021 with 409 009 COVID-19 nose and throat swab tests nested in 72 866 households for 100 138 individuals in the labour force aged 18-64. ANALYSIS: ORs for a positive COVID-19 test were calculated using multilevel logistic regression models, stratified by sex and time, by an index of autonomy to abide by NPIs, adjusted for various socioeconomic and behavioural covariates. RESULTS: Inability to comply with NPIs predicted higher infections when individuals reported not wearing a face covering outside. The main effect for inability to comply was OR 0.79 (95% CI 0.67 to 0.92), for wearing face covering/masks was OR 0.29 (95% CI 0.15 to 0.56) and the interaction term being OR 1.25 (95% CI 1.07 to 1.46). The youngest age groups had a significantly higher risk of infection (OR 1.52, 95% CI 1.28 to 1.82) as did women in larger households (OR 1.04, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.06). Effects varied over time with autonomy to follow NPIs only significant in the pre-second lockdown May-November 2020 period. Wearing a face covering outside was a significant predictor of a lower chance of infection before mid-December 2020 when a stricter second lockdown was implemented (OR 0.44, 95% CI 0.27 to 0.73). CONCLUSION: The protective effect of wearing a face covering/mask was the strongest for those who were the most unable to comply with NPIs. Higher infection rates were in younger groups and women in large households. Wearing a face covering or mask outside the home consistently and significantly predicted lower infection before the 2020 Christmas period and among women.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Open

Publication Date





COVID-19, health policy, public health, COVID-19, Communicable Disease Control, Female, Humans, Masks, Pandemics, SARS-CoV-2, United Kingdom