More and more lately, people in this country seem to think that everything is all or nothing, black-and-white, this side or that side. We seem unable to discuss any subject with any level of nuance — we back into our respective corners and hiss and gnash our teeth at the enemy. This holds especially true when it comes to discussing the coronavirus pandemic.
Take the mask debate. Many have taken the stance that, unless it’s an N95 respirator (so named because they filter out 95% of air particles), there’s no point in wearing any mask at all. Some seem to think that even an N95 mask is pointless.
Because, get this — you can smell farts through a mask.
*cries for humanity*
A Twitter thread recently addressed how absolutely moronic this “logic” is.
I just saw a post about "If a fart can make it through underwear and a pair of jeans, how can a mask made of cloth save you from covid? Asking for a friend..[sic]" Well, firstly, thank you for the question! As a scientist (specifically a chemist, I am absolutely qualified to 1/9
— Trevor Makal (@MakalMakal) April 24, 2020
Trevor A. Makal, associate professor of chemistry at University of Virginia at Wise, cleared up why masks block viruses even though they don’t block fart smells.
“Let’s consider the size of the molecules that make up the stink smell in farts,” he says in his thread. “We’ll focus on one particular example, as the others are similarly sized (when compared to the size of a virus). Methanthiol (CH3SH), like a number of thiol (-SH) containing molecules, smells! … It smells like incredibly intense garlic; though many would just say it smells putrid. If you want everyone to hate you, walk through a hallway carrying an open container of thiol compounds.”
Got it. Tiny, stinky fart molecules.
“Well, CH3SH is a rather small molecule with a diameter around 4*10^-10 m (0.4 nm, about 1.6*10^-8 inches),” Makal continues. “By comparison, viruses typically range in diameter from about 20 nm up to about 400 nm (J. Biol. Phys., 2013, 39(2), 215), with COVID-19 being around 60-140 nm (Cell. Mol. Immun., 2020). The difference in sizes of the COVID-19 virus and a common odorant in farts is 2-3 orders of magnitude (100–1000 times the diameter of the smaller methanethiol).”
Did you get that? The COVID-19 virus is one hundred to one thousand times bigger than a fart molecule. Can we also please note that Makal is citing his claims with scientific journals. Because science.
Then Makal explains how N95 masks work.
“An N95 mask is capable of filtering 95% of a test aerosol containing average particle size of 300 nm (from the CDC). Basically, an N95 mask has a tight weave pattern with multiple layers that serve as a barrier to larger structures (like viruses, or simply spittle).”
Okay, fine, Mr. Smartypants Chemist-Scientist Dude, so N95 masks work. Whatever. But homemade cloth masks are worthless, right? Only stupid, gullible libtard communists wear those.
Eh, not so much. Here’s a little more science from our smart, highly educated friend Makal.
“While the benefits of a specific mask will depend on the fabric and construction of the mask (not to mention how it is worn), having some form of barrier between an infected individual and a healthy individual is far superior to open air allowing for the transfer of virus (along with other matter) between those individuals.”
And then, for the people who still haven’t quite gotten it yet, Makal drives it home with an analogy:
“To argue that ‘since I can smell a fart through a mask, there’s no point in wearing a mask to protect me against viruses’ is like securing a medieval castle with a gate to keep out invading horsemen, but arguing that because roaches can still enter that there is no point in having a gate. Clearly you have not considered that the horseman is the greater threat.”
The horses are coronavirus, y’all. The roaches are the fart smell. If everyone wears a mask, we all decrease the odds of passing coronavirus to each other. This is basic risk mitigation — another kind of science, incidentally.
Makal’s explanation is why, in general, I prefer to listen to scientists rather than my MAGA-hat wearing cousin Jim, keyboard warrior-ing his “common sense” (i.e. incorrect) rationales for why “masks are for pussies” from his circa 1992 recliner in between swigs of Natty Ice and constant readjustments of his confederate flag belt buckle. It’s literally Makal’s job to understand this shit. Jim thinks Ancient Aliens is science.
Viruses are complicated, folks. It’s not just MAGA-hat Jim who doesn’t understand how they work. Most of us don’t. Scientists study virus behavior for years and even they think the topic is complicated and nuanced and mysterious.
I mean, check out this description from one of Makal’s links about the coronavidea family, to which all coronaviruses belong:
“The total length of the genome is 30 Kb, consisting of a 5’-terminal noncoding region, an open reading box (ORF) 1a/b-coding region, an s region encoding the spike glycoprotein (S protein), an e region encoding the envelope protein (E protein), an m region encoding the membrane protein (M protein), an n region encoding the nucleocapsid protein (N protein), and a -3’-terminal noncoding region.”
Er, I think I’mma leave the science-ing to the scientists.
Folks, it’s really important for us to be able to admit when we don’t know something. It’s important to listen to the experts who know better than we do. COVID-19 is a virus. It’s so small we can’t even fucking see it, and it often behaves in ways that defy common sense. We can’t use what feels like “common sense” to try to predict how a virus will behave. We have to use science. We have to trust scientists.
And if scientists tell us to wear a mask, even if it’s “just” a homemade one, then dammit, wear the fucking mask.