To Mask or Not to Mask? Protecting Against Coronavirus

According to a story from People’s Pharmacy, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams recently stated in a tweet that regular citizens should stop buying face masks because they are not useful to prevent people from getting infected with coronavirus/COVID-19. However, as our understanding of the virus continues to improve, there is more evidence to suggest that coronavirus could be transmitted in the air more easily than we first believed.

How Easily is Coronavirus Transmitted?

Explanations from the World Health Organization and other authorities suggest that most people are infected by the virus when it is transmitted through moisture particles in the air, which are generally the result of a cough or sneeze from an affected person in your immediate vicinity. However, some examples suggest that there could be more going on. Events such as Mardi Gras and a soccer game held between Spain and Italy are cited as examples of people spreading the virus easily because of close proximity.

However, a critical exception is another story of a choir practice that took place in Washington state. On March 10, 2020, a practice for the 121 members was held. About half of the group opted to show up, and no one who did was displaying symptoms. The members actively avoided physical contact and stayed six feet apart from each other. However, after the service, 45 of the 60 members that attended the practice got COVID-19; two died.

This story suggests that coronavirus is being spread through aerosols instead of just droplets; research indicates that aerosols can hang in the air for hours, making it much easier for the virus to transmit. 

If The Aerosol Theory of Transmission Proves True, Then Would Wearing a Mask Actually be Useful?

In Asian countries such as Taiwan, China, Japan, and others, wearing a face mask is not uncommon during peak flu season; in fact, they have actually become fashion items and are also worn by sick people to prevent spreading disease to others. During the pandemic, almost everyone who ventured out in public in these places wore a face mask. These countries were some of the first to be affected by coronavirus/COVID-19, but they have so far had far greater success in keeping the number of cases low in comparison to the US, where the number of cases continues to rise rapidly. 

It is uncommon today to see people in the US with masks, and those that wear them often get plenty of sideways glances; however, it is considered rude in Asian countries to be without one.

Another consideration is that there is a shortage of masks in the US, and citizens are actively encouraged not to hoard masks so that healthcare workers can get the gear they need, particularly the N95 masks. It should go without saying that people on the front lines need masks first, but Asian countries like South Korea have had stunning successes in tamping down the virus where the US has not; those countries encourage mask wearing, and we do not.

So maybe wearing a mask in public places isn’t a bad idea, but if you can’t get a mask easily, even a double layered t-shirt or a bandana is better than nothing. 

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