Wear Masks or Not?

Author: Sue C. | Category: Health & Medicine | Date: 04-02-2020


Even after Trump's announcement on April 3rd that the CDC is currently recommending that people wear masks (he said scarves are better because they are "thicker."), the issue is still far from settled in the U.S. From saying “no” initially, CDC officials are finally "recommending" face masks but with the president's tepid endorsement and his personal declaration that he will not be wearing a mask himself, the effect of this recommendation will most likely be insigificant.

In China, wearing masks to prevent Covid19 infection (and pollution-related problems) has been an accepted fact of life for quite some time.  The Chinese did not equivocate until there was absolute certainty.

The fact is that the latest studies of how far Covid19 viruses can travel and how long they are suspended in the air (as reported in a just-published Journal of the American Medical Association article) point to a much more threatening situation regarding transmissibility of Covid19 than previously assumed.

According to these  latest findings, Covid19 can travel 23 to 27 ft (not the previous assumption of 3 to 6 ft), and the viruses can stay suspended in the air for hours before settling down on surfaces. Furthermore, viruses are emitted when people exhale and when they talk, so you should be wary even if no one is sneezing or coughing. 

With these grim facts in mind, wearing a face mask is a no brainer.  

Some of the initial objections were that masks cannot block out all germs, so they are useless.  This is a stupid argument, because, yes, face masks, not even the famed N95 masks, can block out ALL viral particles, but most face masks will reduce the quantity of pathogens that you breathe in.  

And VIRAL LOAD matters a lot. 

The reason why health care workers are dying at a much higher rate is because they are exposed to a LOT of Covid19 viruses.

Another oft-heard reason is that if officials mandate the wearing of masks, then there will be a run on masks, and that would deprive medical personnel of this valuable protection.  This is also specious, as, with the exception of N95s, most masks, especially non-FDA-approved surgical masks, are still widely available (as of this writing) and wearing a home-made mask or even just the use of a bandana would help compared to no mask.

Yet another objection to masks is the assumption that when people wear masks, they may be more complacent and will not observe social distancing anymore.  First of all, this has not been studied at all, so it is just an opinion. From most of what we've heard of people's behaviors, it appears that older people are more cautious and observe social distancing more diligently than younger folks.  With the addition of masks, seniors will be even better protected.  It is true that many young people are not observing social distancing to the extent that older people are, because they feel more invincible.  So, if masks are mandated, they will be much better protected, even if they continue their lax social distancing practices. 

Again, what we are talking about is an extra layer of protection, not absolute prevention, 

It’s also a matter of community responsibility.  Even if you feel invincible or are skeptical about the efficacy of the masks for yourself, wearing a mask will protect others from the pathogens you may be harboring. Don’t forget that there are lots of asymptomatic people walking around, perhaps yourself included. 

So, the CDC should go further to mandate the wearing of masks even if the masks are not n95s and even if there are still doubts.  





Karen Maki April 5, 2020 11:26 am
Thanks for the clear explanation. Sounds right to me.