A wee word about masks

Up until a few days ago, the message we kept hearing about masks was we don’t need them, they don’t work, and STOP BUYING THEM! (here)

This made no sense because while surgical masks won’t protect healthy people from droplets or aerosols if a sick person near you coughs or sneezes, they do help keep droplets and aerosols in if sick person wearing a mask coughs or sneezes, thereby reducing the spread of infection.

Since the coronavirus spreads easily, has a long incubation period, and can infect a person without causing symptoms, it seemed odd that there was no recommendation to wear surgical style masks early on. The only way I could explain it was the lack of availability of masks and dishonest messaging, rather than frank communication with  the American people about alternative mouth and nose coverings.

Once social distancing and stay-at-home recommendations were put in place, it remained puzzling as to why surgical masks still weren’t recommended since the population was now moved into close quarters at home where infection risk would rise should someone in the household become ill. Surgical masks seemed like a pretty low tech, inexpensive tool to reduce infection from spreading within households.

Then, all of a sudden, face coverings were recommended. Sort of. It’s up to each person to decide if the want to wear one.

At this point, indulge me a slight detour to say that I find it truly irritating that the government would give us all permission to wear a mask. Do we really need the government to sanction such personal choices? Can we not make them for ourselves? I don’t need the government to tell me that it’s up to me if I want to wear a face mask. Good grief!

So here we are with a recommendation to wear a face mask. If we want to.

But here’s the thing that’s even more obnoxious. On April 5th, the Surgeon General said  they “always recommended that if people have symptoms that they wear a face mask to prevent spreading disease to other folks.” (here)

No, they didn’t! In fact, sometimes they said the opposite, claiming that wearing masks could exacerbate the spread of the virus. (here and here)

And if they had recommended wearing surgical masks all along, the bar shouldn’t have been symptoms, it should have been a blanket recommendation because people can be infected but asymptomatic while spreading the virus.

Tell it to the American people straight, please! We’re not children. Don’t drone on about masks being pointless when they play a vital role for the kind of situation we’re in.

Don’t manipulate us because something we need isn’t available (thanks to surgical masks being made in China). And then don’t lie to us after the fact when doing a semi-about face.

From my non-model, non data-driven, anecdotal evidence that’s happening in New York among contacts I have there, the virus is spreading within households. If everyone in hot spots was urged to wear a surgical mask during this most intense time of infections, the transmission rate could have been reduced and lives may well have been saved.

Same goes for keeping the economy going while workers wore masks to protect others.

Instead, we were told over and over again that masks don’t work and please let the experts handle this by shutting down the economy.

All in all, it’s pathetic.

Image by Will O'Toole