So now we are arguing about face masks. I suppose a certain amount of arguing is to be expected. Face masks are inconvenient and can be uncomfortable. It's natural to not want to wear them.
Most health experts and government leaders are advocating for wearing face masks, at least for higher risk environments, such as crowded stores. But not everyone seems to understand exactly what the benefit of wearing a mask is.
WHY WEAR A MASK?
First and foremost, wearing a cloth mask helps protect others. A cloth mask will catch most of the small droplets that exit with your breath whenever you cough, sneeze, laugh, pronounce hard consonants, or forget to chew with your mouth closed. (no chewing when you're wearing a mask right?)
Small droplets can hang around in the air for quite a long time, (seconds to minutes, depending on how small they are.) Also, these droplets can deposit on nearby surfaces, such as that fruit you just picked up at the grocery store. Don't believe there are that many droplets? Check out this video:
"Why does coughing in our elbow help stop the spread of disease, but coughing into a mask does not?" - @TalkGOPpod
This is also the reason doctors and nurses wear surgical masks during a surgery. To protect the patient from any droplets that might carry bacteria from entering a open surgical site and causing an infection
"But I'm Not Sick"
How do you know you are not sick? One of the great unanswered questions about COVID-19 is the number of people who get infected without having symptoms, especially during the beginning of the infection.
In fact this is an argument being made by the same people against wearing masks. If there are large numbers of people already infected without symptoms, then COVID-19 is much less dangerous than we fear and therefore we should open back up.
I sincerely hope this is true. I support trying to get the economy opened up because we can't stay shut down for very long without massive disruptions. But if there are a lot of people without symptoms, then YOU might be spreading the virus without knowing it. And that's a good reason to wear a mask.
Many Americans Are Still Worried About the Virus
In fact, a Pew Survey released last week (May 7th) finds that 68% of Americans are worried states will lift restrictions too quickly including 47% of Republican/Republican-leaning Americans.
If you want the country to reopen and get the economy moving, don't you want more than half of Americans to participate? Lifting COVID-19 restrictions will not automatically fill restaurants, theaters, and football stadiums. For that to happen Americans must feel safe and secure in doing so.
Lifting COVID-19 restrictions will not automatically fill restaurants, theaters, and football stadiums.
If you want Americans to feel more confident about getting out in public, how will refusing to wear a mask help? The survey results above are consistent with my own personal experience. Our local church has members who are very worried about themselves or others who are elderly or have health conditions.
Wearing a mask is a positive civic service you can perform for your community.
- It reduces the actual distribution of the virus if enough people do it.
- It gives reassurance to your friends and neighbors who are worried about the virus
- It sets a good example for others to feel comfortable wearing a mask as well.
BEWARE THE MASK OF DEATH!
As a last effort to resist wearing a mask, people are arguing that wearing the mask is actually dangerous. By this logic, wearing a cloth surgical mask is actually more dangerous than the Coronavirus itself. Here are a few of the arguments, summarized
The mask deprives you of oxygen and will poison you with your own carbon dioxide.
Really? I'm pretty sure most of us have put on a bandanna or snuggled under the covers without serious harm. If this is a real hazard, do you want that doctor wearing a mask during your surgery?
If you need reassurance from a doctor here is a response from doctors on health.com. According to this, average people will suffer no harm, although it is possible that someone with serious breathing difficulties may be affected by a mask. But if you have serious breathing difficulties maybe you shouldn't be out during a respiratory pandemic?
The mask will cause you to get reinfected with your own virus.
Well first of all if you are breathing the virus into the mask, you must be infected right? So either wear the mask to protect others or stay home.
Second, if you are currently infected, then how can you be reinfected? You breath out the virus and then breath back in the same virus, then there is no change in your condition
Perhaps you have recovered and now you are getting reinfected by your mask some time later. First of all, wash your mask or replace it. You can't get reinfected next week if your mask is clean, assuming the virus could even live that long on your mask.
Also, if you are getting reinfected that means that you don't have immunity to the virus after having it. If this is true then we can't get to herd immunity, the virus is more dangerous than we thought, and therefore you better wear a clean mask and wash your hands a lot.
The mask makes you more likely to touch your face and infect yourself.
I plead guilty to face touching. I tend to have watery itchy eyes at times and I struggle not to touch my face. Frankly, I'm likely to touch my face whether I'm wearing a mask or not.
But touching your face can only be high risk if there are a lot of infected people out in public. As stated earlier, if there ARE a lot of infected people, it's in everyone's best interest if they are wearing a mask to reduce the spread to other people.
As far as touching your face, the best countermeasure for that risk is to avoid touching other surfaces, focus on not touching your face, and sanitize your hands a lot, especially after touching a gas pump handle, door handle, or other disgusting public surfaces.
What About Our Freedom?
Is it a violation of your freedom to wear a mask? Well maybe. But that's a different issue than the question of whether wearing the mask is benefit to public health.
If you are concerned about the government taking too much power under the guise of fighting a pandemic, then I'm right there with you. I'm a believer in the founding American principles of limited government and distributed powers.
But the fact that government may overreach does not mean that the danger from COVID-19 is not real. I'm hopeful that the danger is much less than we originally feared, but we should take this seriously and try to manage risk of the virus while preserving our economic activity. Our approach to the virus will change and hopefully improve as we learn more.
Let's do both. Fight the virus. Fight government overreach. The best way to do this is for the people to take as much personal responsibility to solving the health crisis as possible. This is the same approach we take to freedom of the economy. Let the free market and free people do the work.
Wearing a mask in crowded public places, voluntarily, is one of many steps we can take to reduce the spread of the virus and increase public confidence.
I'm trying to do better with all these things. I hope you'll join me.