In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with limited or no supplies of vaccines and treatments, people and policymakers seek easy to implement and cost-effective alternatives to combat the spread of infection during the pandemic. The practice of wearing a mask, which requires change in people’s usual behavior, may reduce disease transmission by preventing the virus spread from infectious to susceptible individuals. Wearing a mask may result in a public good game structure, where an individual does not want to wear a mask but desires that others wear it. This study develops and analyzes a new intervention game model that combines the mathematical models of epidemiology with evolutionary game theory. This approach quantifies how people use mask-wearing and related protecting behaviors that directly benefit the wearer and bring some advantage to other people during an epidemic. At each time-step, a suspected susceptible individual decides whether to wear a facemask, or not, due to a social learning process that accounts for the risk of infection and mask cost. Numerical results reveal a diverse and rich social dilemma structure that is hidden behind this mask-wearing dilemma. Our results highlight the sociological dimension of mask-wearing policy.
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