THOMPSON: Wear a mask for the right reasons - InfoNews

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THOMPSON: Wear a mask for the right reasons

August 03, 2020 - 12:00 PM



Last week, as I was standing with about 15 shoppers at my local grocery store - each six feet from one another - a woman wearing a mask behind me in the queue caught my eye and said, “Thank you for wearing a mask.”

“You’re welcome,” I replied. “Thank you, as well, but my mask isn’t completely altruistic. It protects me.”

“Really?” she said, her eyebrows arching. “They say wearing a mask doesn’t protect you...only others.” She seemed satisfied to have corrected my claim. But, I’m always unsure who “they” are when people use that a credible source...and I knew the facts.

I read three studies last week...actual just published and a couple from six months ago and another nearly seven years ago. The truth is...if you wear a mask those around you are, indeed, safer...and you reduce your risk of infection, too. I have been arguing this point - quite literally - for a couple months now.

Unfortunately, we have been told in countless news stories, social media posts and conversations that masks simply protect others...not us. Perhaps that mis-messaging was done to prevent a run on the market of N95 masks early on. But the misinformation continues even today...almost as if wearing a mask might be some conspiracy to simply screw with us...make us more miserable in an already miserable time.

But, rather than question the motives of those who have flatly refused to admit even the possibility that a mask helps protect you - the wearer - I unequivocally state that a mask...virtually any mask...makes you safer.

You see, not a single bit of research supports the opinion that masks only work one way...protecting only others from what you otherwise might spew, spray, wheeze, sneeze, shout, sing and belch.

If you think about it...and I have argued this to the point of “agreeing to disagree” with some folks...common sense dictates that if a mask...any mask...stops some droplets carrying a virus it would block the same droplets going the other way. If ever there was a scientific premise...well, this would be a good one.

Now, before you get all defensive and start throwing the many excuses why this can’t be. Forget arguments about ill-fitting masks or the dangers of touching masks or how masks fog up your glasses or how some people can’t wear masks due to other medical conditions. 

You simply can’t say ill-fitting masks provide a measure of protection for others...but they don’t do the same for you. By the way, foggy glasses seem a small price to pay to avoid death. And almost all of us - nearly 99 percent - don’t suffer medical conditions that prevent mask wearing.

Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH and Professor of Medicine and Associate Chief, Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco told me last Friday:

“Researchers at UCSF and other centers have found that masks do more than protect others - facial masks protect you as the wearer. Not only do facial masks make you less likely to be infected, they decrease the amount of virus that gets into your system if you do get infected, making it more likely for you to have infection without any symptoms. Population-level masking may be the most important pillar of pandemic control and will allow us to get through this much more quickly by protecting the individual and society.”

Dr. Gandhi, along with her esteemed fellow researchers, Chris Beyrer, MD, MPH and Desmond M. Tutu Professor of Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Eric Goolsby, MD, Professor of Medicine, UCSF, presented their findings in a paper entitled, “Masks Do More Than Protect Others during COVID-19: Reducing the Inoculum of SARS-CoV-2” in the August issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

But evidence indicating these findings has been around for awhile. Earlier this year, researchers in China put coronavirus-infected and healthy hamsters in adjoining cages, some of which were separated by buffers made of surgical masks. They found many of the hamsters behind the mask partitions never got infected...and those that did were less sick than the hamsters unprotected by mask partitions.

Wearing a face mask doesn’t make people bullet-proof to infection, but researchers increasingly believe wearing masks leads to milder disease...and potentially reduces hospitalizations and deaths. A mask - virtually any face covering - stops large droplets...and it is dose or intensity of exposure that determines how sick you might get.

Dr. Gandhi has said data from cruise ships...which crowd large numbers of people into close quarters support this thinking. In February, more than 80 percent of passengers aboard Japan’s Diamond Princess were symptomatic during an outbreak. A month later, a cruise ship from Argentina issued surgical masks to everyone when a passenger tested positive...the level of symptomatic cases was less than 20 percent.

Researchers have yet to prove exactly how much inbound or outbound virus various masks block. But most - based on available evidence past and present - say the amount filtered out is likely high...50 percent or more of the larger aerosols being sent in both directions. Certainly, N95 respirators do better than others, but even looser-fitting cloths can block some viral particles.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again...almost everyone should wear masks. And now you don’t even have to care one bit about others...protect yourself. Still most of us choose not to wear masks in public...even though someone can sneeze in aisle four of the grocery and someone else - you - can walk through their viral mist a few minutes later.

Well, selflessness didn’t seem to work to make us wear masks...maybe good old fashioned selfishness will. Pssst...folks, wear masks because they protect’s no longer a secret.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.

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