Saturday, September 26, 2020

Cover That Cough!

      I'm still getting comments from people who think that masks -- simple cloth and paper masks -- are not effective against the transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

     Well, masks are effective.  When I try to explain it clearly, I get accused of being "condescending," when all I'm trying to do is cut through the fog of rumor and emotion.  And, yes, it's plenty awful to be required to wear a mask -- or use a seat belt, or obey the speed limit -- but it's easier to argue about those things if you're not dead.  There is plenty of causal, sloppy evidence -- here in Indiana, we didn't get transmission rates down until mask use in indoor, public spaces was mandated, and the drop in transmission continued against a background of steadily increasing testing for the virus.

     There's also plenty of expert advice and well-documented scientific evidence for the effectiveness of masks in limiting the transmission of the virus.  Oh, there's a catch to it, and the catch is tricky enough that many people have gotten hung up on it: masks are most effective at keeping people who already have the virus from giving it to others.*  Now, if this damned virus acted more like the common cold, using masks would be easy: put one on at the first symptoms and there you go!  --Unfortunately, the best evidence we have is that SARS-CoV-2 has a trick up its sleeve the common cold does not: you can walk around loaded up with the virus for days before you feel sick or develop noticeable symptoms, breathing it out with every exhalation and every word you speak.  So the only way to control the thing is for everyone to wear masks around one another, even though we're probably feeling fine.

     This rubs raw the American "You're not the boss of me!" reaction to most any government edict.  It irks me -- but I am the boss of me, and I decided that if I did get the virus, I damned well wasn't gonna drag anyone down with me.  So I wear a mask, not because the Great White Father in the state capitol or Mayor's office told me I had to but because I've read up on 'em, I know that they work, I know how they work† and I have made my own mind up to help.

     You can make up your mind to help, or you can fume, complain and cherry-pick disinformation (no small amount of it sown by foreign and domestic enemies of American civil order), but the evidence is in and the evidence says masks work.  They're not 100% effective, but they make a significant difference -- and so can you.
* One of my links, in fact, is to an NIH study, pretty early on, that suggests health-care workers dealing with infected people do best putting on a respirator at the start of their shift and not taking it off until they're done for the day; cloth or paper masks didn't do them a lot of good.  Putting the cloth or paper mask on the patients, on the other hand, was very helpful at limiting the spread and having doctors and nurses in respirators while the sick wore basic masks worked best of all.   Outside the hospital, where most of us are and the ratio of sick to well is very different, the best way to limit the spread was for everyone to wear a cloth or paper mask.

† For the tiny-virus crowd, remember that most of those viruses are floating out stuck to and in the warm, wet droplets of our exhaled breath.  It's not "a chain-link fence against mosquitoes," it's a chain-link fence against flea-infested chihuahuas: you may, in fact, find a few fleas on the other side, but most of 'em aren't going to hop off their ride.


Stuart said...

I've said this on other forums and got told off for being pro mask. Like you say people cherry pick pieces of information to back up their own view. The scientific ignorance of large parts of our populations and the belief in social media over science is rather worrying.

Alex said...

Well said.

fillyjonk said...

There are also a couple studies suggesting - merely suggesting, it needs more study - the possibility of a "variolation" effect in mask wearers: that they may get a dose of the virus, but a small enough one that either they're mildly sick, or their immune system takes out the virus without them really noticing it - and they likely gain immunity.

that's good enough for me.

My campus has mandated masks in buildings; with about 4500 people on campus we have 12 active cases, which is really not bad. Again, pretty strong evidence to me.

I miss wearing lipstick in public (always the dumb things are what you miss), but there will be an "after" when maybe I can wear it again.

RandyGC said...

I'm wearing a mask for two real reasons and one not so real:

1. I don't have enough access to raw data (or the background to properly evaluate such data) to definitively determine who is being accurate, who is manipulating the data for political gain, or who is just trolling. So I err on the side of safety since it really doesn't cost me anything.

2. Since most folks are going along with this, and many are genuinely scared, I consider it good manners to not put any more stress on them, or to cause stress for store employees just trying to get through the day while dealing with requirements they didn't put in place.

3. If this is a conspiracy by "them" to get people used to compliance, best not to highlight myself until Der Tag comes along. ;-)