Lately, much chatter in the media, as well as talk heard 'round my neighborhood, leads to one simple question. Do masks prevent the spread of Coronavirus? The answer is yes. A recent study shows wearing masks could reduce the incidence of Coronavirus by 80% or more. Are masks perfect? No. Do they work really well? Yes.
Recently Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus response coordinator, emphasized there is “clear scientific evidence” that masks work. On top of that, the Annals of Internal Medicine just published a landmark analysis of 64 studies finding that masks prevent the spread of Coronaviruses and other airborne illnesses.
The US is plowing ahead with opening businesses to restart the economy. Unfortunately, more than half of Americans don't yet want to leave their homes to patronize these businesses. One simple way to address this problem is to commit as a country to wearing masks.
Furthering mask initiatives around the US, an esteemed panel of experts from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) stated that because Coronavirus is aerosolized and lingers in the air, masks are a good option for preventing its spread. In their formal letter, the NAS panel let the current administration know that Coronavirus is transmitted not only through sneezing and coughing, but also by speaking and breathing. In effect, the Coronavirus is an airborne disease. This is why masks work, they prevent the virus from being emitted, or sprayed (heavily via sneezing, or lightly by breathing) from infected persons to others. Masks prevent the virus from spreading into and pooling in the air. For this same reason, it's safer to be outdoors than inside, because in this scenario the virus is dispersed, rather than concentrated. Still, masks are needed both inside and outside to protect our population from infected individuals, prevent its spread, and open up our economy quickly.
It may help to think of Coronavirus as glitter. A mask is going to stop those who may have COVID-19 from efficiently spreading corona-glitter to others. In a recent article in the Washington Post, Joseph Allen from the School of Public Health at Harvard emphasizes that masks prevent the spread of Coronavirus very effectively. Getting this information out so that more people comply with wearing masks will unite our country around a cheap yet effective initiative that erases the false dichotomy between health and economics because it addresses both with fairly little effort.
Dr. Harvey Fineberg, head of the NAS committee that sent the letter on the effectiveness of mask use to the current administration, said he would wear a mask to the grocery store, and that among other options, items ranging from a bandana to a balaclava would work well in preventing the spread of Coronavirus. Handpicked by the current administration, Dr. Fineberg leads the NAS Standing Committee Requested by White House in Response to Coronavirus.
I interviewed Dr. Todd Dorfman, Director of EMS for Boulder County Colorado about the use of masks to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. He states, “Face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as social distancing, help slow the spread of the disease,” adding, “Asking everyone to wear cloth masks can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by people who have the disease but don't realize it. Countries that required face masks early in the pandemic seem to have had the best success slowing the disease's spread.” He pointed out that these countries also used testing far earlier and more frequently than the US at the outset of the pandemic in January.
Unfortunately, asking our citizens to do the right thing when it comes to Coronavirus may not be that simple because mask use is now a very heated topic. Here in Colorado, a man walked into a restaurant in Aurora, just outside Denver. He was told he needed to wear a mask to be served. In response, he shot a restaurant employee. Thankfully, we can all agree that this extreme overreaction is not even close to an appropriate response under any circumstances.
On the other hand, an article in Forbes called New Study Shows That This One Thing Could Cause 80% Decrease in COVID-19 Cases, points out that while the US is slowly trying to reopen, Japan didn't ever really close.
The Land of the Rising Sun has had no lockdown, no stopped subways and most businesses have remained open.
As of this writing, the US has suffered over 100,000 Coronavirus deaths, yet Japan has endured less than 1,000. While Japan's population is around one-third of ours, they've suffered 1% of the deaths incurred here in the US. Why? One reason is that the Japanese have willingly used masks while waiting for a cure.
Dr. Dorfman pointed out that The Mayo Clinic has a simple, reasonable set of instructions for putting on and taking off a cloth mask:
It's true, when there was a shortage, the Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Robins, advised against the use of masks. This was when we were in the initial stages of Coronavirus, unprepared, and perilously short on personal protective equipment (PPE). However, he now not only recommends mask-wearing but has a video demonstrating how to make one.
Prior to his visit, the Mayo Clinic briefed the Vice President's team on their mandatory mask-wearing policy. Unfortunately, he did not comply. During this tragic time with so many lives lost, and little to no way to properly grieve them, it is more important than ever to show patriotism by protecting our medical warriors in any way we can. More people have died in the last 2 months than in the Korean and Vietnam wars combined. We can easily protect our front line heroes at places like the Mayo Clinic with little to no sacrifice. Why not wear a mask in public? Especially when you cannot social distance.
Perhaps this administration thinks it would be a show of weakness to don masks everywhere. However, it's not too late to lead by example. It would demonstrate inspiring strength and bravery for our highest public officials to wear masks in public.
Do masks stop the spread of Coronavirus completely? No. Are they perfect? No. But let's not allow perfect to be the enemy of the good. Masks save lives. The important thing is that we don't let nuances deter us from the most important public causes when it comes to health. Will you wear a mask?