Why We All Need To Just Wear The Freaking Masks

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
This Is Why We All Need To Wear Masks

To mask or not to mask, that is the question right now, isn’t it? Well, not really, tbh. This actually is an easy one, folks. For several reasons. Masks serve a vital function the world desperately needs right now—they stop the transmission of contagious germs. And our planet is living through a pandemic. Still not on board? Maybe these mask facts will convince you otherwise.

We learn new things about this novel COVID-19 pandemic every day, and there is still information we don’t know. For instance, we don’t yet know the long-term effects fighting this virus will have on the body. We are still learning how it affects children, most of whom are asymptomatic, but some of whom become gravely ill. We don’t know why it makes some healthy adults with no known pre-existing conditions end up on respirators, fighting for their lives. And we don’t know when we’ll have a vaccine.

But here’s a known medical fact: Droplets that fly out of our mouths — including when we speak, not just cough or sneeze — are a key transmission route for COVID-19. Those droplets partially evaporate, becoming tiny particles that are almost impossible not to inhale if you’re nearby.

Just by merely breathing and speaking, we exhale these droplets into the air around us, and if we’re infected with COVID-19, that air is now contaminated.

But are fabric masks effective? Research has shown that even a cloth mask dramatically reduces the number of virus particles emitted from our mouths. So yes, that line of cotton between your breath and the outside world catches many of these potentially-contagious droplets.

Another argument for non-mask wearers is that they “don’t feel sick” so they don’t feel the need to don a protective mask. Well, another proven fact about this virus debunks that position. None of us know if we’re carrying it if we aren’t showing symptoms and haven’t been tested. People all over the world are passing this virus around without ever showing symptoms themselves — but the person they passed it to could be in the ICU within a week.

“Nearly half of patients are infected by people who aren’t coughing or sneezing yet. Many people have no awareness of the risk they pose to others, because they don’t feel sick themselves, and many may never become overtly ill,” The Atlantic says, and study after study after study has confirmed this.

Again—We. Don’t. Know. Who. Is. Sick.

The article then provides this powerful metaphor to drive the point home: “Think of the coronavirus pandemic as a fire ravaging our cities and towns that is spread by infected people breathing out invisible embers every time they speak, cough, or sneeze.”

And all the “firefighters” (i.e. our medical workers) who are frantically trying to stamp out the blaze are asking of you is to wear a mask so you don’t fan the flame.

Because that’s the thing—the other mindset mask-wearers have to buy into (other than realizing that asymptomatic people are spreading COVID-19) is actually giving a shit about others. Or, at the very least, understanding that the more we all do our part (stay home, wear masks, actually listen to and heed medical advice), the faster we get rid of this beast, and the sooner all of our governors and mayors and legislators can completely re-open the country.

Do you see how this all works?

By refusing to wear a mask and going to work or hitting up bars and restaurants and grocery stores, you’re contributing to the wildfire. You might think you’re not, because you “feel fine,” but you could be carrying it just as much as someone in NYC or Florida or Alaska could be carrying it.

Anna Shvets/Pexels

And by showing your mask-protest, you’re emboldening someone else to do the same because “it’s your right!” and that person could be carrying it, and now they’re putting contagious germ-infested breath into the air.

All of these choices drag out this grueling process.

All of these choices mean we’ll likely see another wave or two, we’ll have to go back into complete quarantine, we’ll continue homeschooling our kids, and our economy will continue to crumble.

Okay, maybe you’re a math person and need to see numbers. So how about these? Every infectious disease has a reproduction rate, called Rt. When the Rt is 1.0, that means the average infected person infects one other person. The 1918 pandemic flu killed 50 million people worldwide, 675,000 in the U.S., with an Rt of 1.8—so one infected person infected almost two other people, on average.

Fifty. Million. People.

COVID-19’s rate varies as we practice quarantine and other social distancing measures. This consistently-updated tracking program, created by Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, gives an overall picture of state-by-state data — both current, and up to six weeks ago. Before we took widespread measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, some states had an Rt as high as 1.21.

A disease doesn’t die out until its Rt falls under 1.0. And, as the number gets lower, it dies out faster. Want to know how to get that number down? You guessed it. Masks.

Again, here are the numbers.

Models show that if 80 percent of people wear masks that are 60 percent effective (easily achievable with cloth) we can get to an effective Rt of less than one. That’s enough to halt the spread of the disease. Countries around the world are already doing this, because it works.

Just look at Hong Kong, a densely populated country not far from Wuhan, where COVID-19 originated. They’ve had nearly 100% voluntary compliance regarding the wearing of masks and, as a result, four deaths. FOUR.

In comparison, do you know what doesn’t work? Packing bars and restaurants the minute they open with zero regard for the fact that we’re living in a pandemic that has killed more than 83,000 Americans in just a few short months.

We’re not going to recover as a nation, but rather we’re going to continue spreading this throughout our communities because we just couldn’t pass up “$3 wing night” at the local pub. And rather than order them to go, we instead sat shoulder to shoulder with strangers, refused to wear a mask, and made zero attempt to social distance while chomping away.

Are those wings worth it? Just ask the Mayo Clinic, whose experts say that “Countries that required face masks, testing, isolation and social distancing early in the pandemic seem to have had some success slowing the disease’s spread. Common sense also suggests that some protection is better than none.”

And yet so many Americans staunchly refuse to wear them.

The numbers don’t lie, and this thing is ravaging our nation. It’s time we look at the research and the facts and accept that wearing a mask infringes upon none of our rights, and is crucial to the well-being of our entire country.

Finally, you could just wear a mask because you actually do care about others, and you know that by covering your own mouth, you might save a life. Sadly, that seems to be too much to ask for a lot of people.

In the end, here’s the hard truth no one wants to hear. An effective vaccine could take a long time, so we have to cope with what we have in the meantime. And one of those things is regular people like you and me doing our part and wearing our masks.

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