Face mask compliance: A simple study design

This face mask compliance observational study attracted my attention because of its simplistic nature and reader-friendly presentation. I must thank Assistant Professor Susan Parham and Dr. Matthew Hardy for publishing the study on The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine website.

About the location

Researchers have chosen a small tourist city in Paris for this face mask compliance study. Their reason for choosing this place is because of its popularity among both tourists and the local population. Wearing of face coverings became mandatory in this place by the time they conducted the observation.

Location selection

Professor Susan Parham and Dr. Matthew Hardy have chosen their place for observation off the main street. They cite two reasons for the selection: 1) It was a busy place so that they can count people and observe accurately gather more information; 2) They expected people to behave more naturally due to less expectation of official surveillance of face covering.

The observation method

They have observed the people for 30 minutes at lunchtime on two separate days at the same place: One weekday and one weekend day. On the first day, they have observed adults and children and on the second day, they have observed adult men and women separately.

Day 1mask wearing behavior of adults and children
Day 2mask-wearing behavior of male and female

Data collection tool

What attracted me about their presentation of this study was that they have pictured their actual data documentation tool as follows;

Source: The Center for Evidence-based Medicine, University of Oxford

How they tabulated findings:

Data tabulations

I created two blank tables that mimic their actual tables. Those interested can read their actual data through the link I have cited at the end of this post.

Day 1 data tabulation table

maskedunmaskedsemi-maskedmasked childunmasked child
total (273)
% of adults
Adapted from The Center for Evidence-based Medicine, University of Oxford

Data 2 data tabulation table

masked male masked femaleunmasked maleunmasked male semi-masked malesemi-asked female
%of all adults
% of each sex


Day 1:
  • Of the total of 272 adults observed, 82 percent were adhering to face mask compliance as recommended.
  • Of the rest who were not complying, 12.5 percent were unmasked 8.5 percent were semi-masked (mask-wearing under the nose).
Day 2:
  • Of the 218 adults observed, 74.3 percent were wearing masks with 26.7 percent were either unmasked (16 percent) or semi-masked (9.7 percent).
  • Of them, 76.9 percent of women and 71.3 percent of men were wearing masks.

The authors of this face mask compliance observational study bring forward an interesting discussion about social norms conformity using the findings that were really critical in creating messages and social marketing campaigns.

Those interested can read the full paper through this link; https://www.cebm.net/2020/10/face-coverings-self-surveillance-and-social-conformity-in-a-time-of-covid-19/?unapproved=319632&moderation-hash=ea7fb58dd08238c803648b8afee163c2#comment-319632

Author: Prasantha De Silva

A specialist in Community Medicine board-certified in Sri Lanka and a research analyst in Canada

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