Proof positive that masks are essential
Many people understandably feel powerless against the invisible but very real threat posed by the coronavirus. But we don’t need to resign ourselves to merely hoping it goes away. Wearing a face mask is one of the most powerful steps we can take—along with keeping our hands clean and maintaining social distance—to quash the spread of coronavirus in our communities, says Dr Andrew Pekosz, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “These things together provide a high degree of protection,” he notes. If you’re not already on board with masks (and 65 per cent of us are, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey), the following facts should convince you. One caveat: Face masks are only effective if you’re using them correctly, so make sure to avoid these all-too-common mistakes.
Masks of all types are effective
Masks unquestionably reduce the spread of droplets from the nose and mouth, says Pekosz. Researchers recently demonstrated this fact when they recorded high-speed video of people uttering a simple phrase both when wearing and not wearing cloth masks. A slightly damp washcloth prevented nearly all of the speakers’ droplets from passing through. Another study concluded that “the odds of developing an infection with a coronavirus were reduced by 78 per cent when wearing any mask.”
Even at less than 100 per cent effectiveness, “you don’t throw up your hands,” Dr Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist. “That’s silly. Nobody’s taking a cholesterol medicine because they’re going to prevent a heart attack 100 per cent of the time, but you’re reducing your risk substantially.”
Coronavirus stats are lower where masks are required
A recent study compared death rates in countries where people were required to wear masks with those in countries where masks were optional, and the differences were stark. The mortality rate increased by an average of 43 per cent weekly in countries where people were not required to wear masks, compared with a 2.8 per cent increase in countries where people were wearing masks.
In the United States, similar disparities have been seen. In a review of the first 15 states to require masks in public (between April 8 and May 5), researchers found “a significant decline” in the daily growth of cases once masks were mandated, and the effect increased each day after the orders were signed. The researchers concluded that up to 450,000 cases may have been averted due to these mandates by May 22.