Friday, June 12, 2020

Coronavirus Update 6–12–2020: sanctimony (and masks) #MaskingForAFriend

Yesterday, I asked a simple question: Do you voluntarily wear a mask or other facial covering when out in public? Thank you to the hundreds upon hundreds who responded. Here are the results:

  • Yes, always: 23.6%
  • Yes, except when I’m socially distant from others outdoors: 48.8%
  • Yes, but only when indoors: 18.6%
  • No, never: 8.9%

I'm encouraged that over 91% of my readers report wearing masks or other facial coverings at least some of the time when out in public. Anecdotally, however, I believe this number is actually quite a bit lower. The few times I've ventured out in public over the past three months—trips to the grocery store,  visits to Lowes to buy decking materials or a new dishwasher, or last night's family excursion to our favorite wine bar to socially distance outside and listen to live music (equal parts terrifying and wonderful)—it seems to me that most people aren't wearing masks.

This observation leads to the comments people left in answering yesterday's poll. Instead of printing them all, I'm only sharing two, each of which summarizes the various viewpoints and opinions of all respondents.

I protect myself and others because I’m a decent human being, not a selfish asshole.


tone (sic) down the sanctimony in your blog

If I was sanctimonious, I would have cut through all of this clutter and just told you to wear a mask and not be a "selfish asshole." Instead, however, I rely on science, which tells me that the best way to halt the communal spread of COVID-19 is a combination of masks and facial coverings, social distancing, and good hand hygiene. Indeed, there have been numerous scientific papers published over the past couple of months (here, here, here, and here, for example) that all reach the same conclusion:

Reducing disease spread requires two things: first, limit contacts of infected individuals via physical distancing and other measures, and second, reduce the transmission probability per contact. The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces the transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected droplets in both laboratory and clinical contexts. Public mask wearing is most effective at reducing spread of the virus when compliance is high. The decreased transmissibility could substantially reduce the death toll and economic impact while the cost of the intervention is low. Given the current shortages of medical masks we recommend the adoption of public cloth mask wearing, as an effective form of source control for now, in conjunction with existing hygiene, distancing, and contact tracing strategies.

Indeed, according to this paper published just two days ago and written by scientists from Cambridge and Greenwich universities, 100 percent adoption of cloth face masks in public could eliminate any future waves of COVID-19. "We show that, when face masks are used by the public all the time (not just from when symptoms first appear), the effective reproduction number, Re, can be decreased below 1, leading to the mitigation of epidemic spread."

The science is clear: when in public, wear a mask, not to protect yourself but to protect others. If everyone wears a mask in public, we would reduce the spread of COVID-19 to a virtual zero, and we could all go about living close to our normal lives. And isn't that what we all want.