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West Virginia University, CDC relaunch mask observation study

Students in masks

Data from the WVU/CDC mask observation study can be used by WVU and the local health department to assess whether additional messaging or other measures are needed to help reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. (WVU Photo/Brian Persinger)

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In an ongoing effort to support West Virginia University’s commitment to keeping its campus community and others safe, the School of Public Health is partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct an eight-week mask observation study. 

WVU is one of 60 colleges and universities across the country participating in the study, called MASCUP! (Mask Adherence Surveillance at Colleges and Universities Project). The primary purpose of the study: estimate the percentage of people within the WVU community wearing masks correctly, as observing mask use can assist universities with determining the adherence among students, faculty and staff to inform public health decision-making.

A seven-week study was conducted in the fall and, of the three institutions participating in the study that accumulated the most data last semester, WVU was the only university to demonstrate an upward trend in both mask-wearing and proper mask usage. 

“We are pleased to know that our campus community is doing its part to keep each other and the community-at-large safe by adhering to critical safety measures being enforced by WVU like mask-wearing, per the guidance from the CDC,” said Keith Zullig, chair and professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and principal investigator. “My sense is that communication played a key role in the statistically significant increase in proper mask wearing in our community.”  

With plans to continue regular reporting through weekly campus updates for this semester’s study, Zullig hopes the upward trend continues. 

“Maintaining our momentum is important, especially at this critical juncture in the pandemic,” he added. 

While COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and deaths due to the virus are declining across the state and country, there are new variants emerging in surrounding states. Additionally, the student population will likely not be able to obtain vaccines for several months. Practicing caution and following health and safety guidance for wearing masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene, self-symptom monitoring and getting tested when symptomatic remain our best defense against further spread of the virus, as Dean of the School of Public Health Dr. Jeffrey Coben reminded the campus community during WVU’s recent Campus Conversation

“We really need to remain vigilant,” Coben said. “Masks remain critical and essential. We need to mask, and we need to mask appropriately, meaning that [your] mask should cover not just your mouth, but your nose and your mouth, and it should achieve a snug fit across your face.” 

Following the same protocol as last semester, eight student observers from the School of Public Health completed observer training, led by the CDC. They began observing mask use at various locations throughout campus and the local community the week of February 15. 

The School of Public Health and University will continue to share the results on a weekly basis. The campus community, as well as others within the surrounding community, are encouraged to share these ongoing updates across their respective communication channels in an effort to raise awareness and increase overall mask wearing and proper mask usage. If you would like to receive the weekly updates directly, please contact the School of Public Health Marketing and Communications Office

For additional information about the fall 2020 study, refer to the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report



CONTACT: Nikky Luna, Director of Marketing and Communications
WVU School of Public Health

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