Sunday, November 22, 2020

Masks and COVID-19

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about wearing masks, so let's talk about them!

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The first thing to mention is the conflicting information on masks. In Febuary and March, the guidance was to not use masks of any kind, to save them for the medical community. The reasoning was two fold. First of all, the medical community then had, and continues to have, a severe shortage in N95 masks. These are the only kind of masks that can filter virus sized particles with any kind of large success. As we continued to understand better, the advice was changed to encourage wearing masks all the time, be them cloth or otherwise. That continues to be the suggestion. That change of guidance has lead to considerable confusion, so let's clear that up now.

COVID-19 is transmitted primarily breathing water droplets that contain virus particles from a person who is infected. These water droplets are much larger than virus. This makes it much easier to to be absorbed by some kind of a mask. What changed primarily, at least at first, is that control over COVID-19 was lost. People frequently were contageous without showing symptoms. Thus, everyone could be considered potentially contageous. Wearing a mask, therefore, changed from being about protecting the wearer from getting disease to help keep others from getting sick, when you might be sick and don't know it yet.

Wearing a mask to prevent the spread of disease is nothing new. For years, if you arrive in a doctor's office and are sick and coughing or sneezing, they have requested that you wear a mask. This helps prevent you from spreading the disease you have. The fact that so many people have had COVID-19 and not even known it lead for a request to be made for everyone to wear masks when in public.

Mask wearing works by absorbing the droplets of water before they leave the vicinity of one's mouth. They very effectively will catch all of the spit droplets when one sneezes, for instance, and also work well for coughs and just when speaking. It turns out that stopping an air borne virus isn't required, just catching these droplets of mostly water will do just fine. This helps keep one from spreading the disease. Cloth masks work fine for this purpose. The latest studies show that their use is 90% effective against transmitting the disease, and about 50% effective against receiving it. In other works, everyone wearing a mask works as well as a low end vaccine!

For the record, every state, Republican or Democrat, either requires or requests that one wears a mask when in close proximity to others. In fact, as of now, every single state either requires the use of a mask when in public or at least recommends it. While President Trump has often been dismisive of wearing a mask, and was not photographed in public wearing one for 3 months after the recommendation was posted, face masks have been passed out at his political rallys, and at least at the entrance people were encouraged to wear them. The last two holdouts were South Dakota and Iowa, but even they are now recommending their use.

How effective is actually wearing a mask? Let's look at some data to compare. To do this let's compare similar states where one has a mask requirement, and one does not. Note that I chose these states without looking before infection rates, to show you what they are really like. The pairs, listed by mask required/ not required are Alabama/ Mississippi, Colorado/ Utah, Kentucky/ Tenessee, and Kansas/ Nebraska. To adjust for the sizes, I am going to use per capita numbers. I am using their total rates according to

Let's start out with those not requiring masks. Mississippi is #12, Utah #6, Tenessee #10, and Nebraska #5. For those requiring masks, Alabama #15, Colorado is #32, Kentucky #30, and Kansas #17. In every instance, when compared to a nearby state, the state with the mask requirement has a lower rate of infections per capita. These states should be quite comparable as a whole, similar size of cities, mostly similar politics, the main difference is one requires wearing a mask in public, the other does not. Let's look at the raw numbers then from these states. The mask wearing ones have a per capita infection rate of 41049 per million, while the non-mask wearing has an average of 52915 per million. The death rate for mask wearing is 519 per million, while for non-mask is 644.

The bottom line is, wearing masks saves lives. I know, they are uncomfortable, trust me, I have to wear one every day, as I am required to go in to work and am required to wear a mask. But wearing a mask really does save lives. If these numbers hold true, as many as 50,000 US deaths or more could have been saved if everyone would simply wear a mask when in public.

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