The science behind the debate on masks


Cloth masks are not perfect.

They come in all different shapes, colors and patterns of varying degrees of comfortability and breathability. They hurt ears, pinch noses, mess up hair and fog up glasses, but that doesn’t mean you should not wear one.

“Some people mistakenly believe that masks are purely a personal choice,” said Tom Locke, Jefferson County’s public health officer.

“This is a dangerously mistaken and self-centered belief,” Locke said. “The main function of the mask is to protect other people from you, not to protect you from other people.”

A cloth mask does not guarantee protection from transmission of COVID-19, but a growing body of research about how COVID-19 droplets spread suggests it might have some effectiveness. An asymptomatic person wearing a cloth mask might be less likely to spread the virus to others.

While COVID-19 is still being studied, it is believed the virus mainly spreads through invisible droplets projected when a person breathes, coughs, sneezes or talks. Each action — breathing, sneezing or coughing — sends droplets flying at various speeds, distances and quantities.

While wearing a mask, current evidence suggests the quantity and distance of the spread of those droplets is reduced.

Any virus particles caught in the mask will not hang in the air waiting to be picked up.

But slow or alternating messaging from different organizations has led to confusion and national and local debate about the effectiveness of masks and their use as a personal choice. In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Surgeon General both discouraged the use of masks among the general public, but have since reversed course and now recommend cloth or homemade masks. Many municipalities and states have directed their citizens to use a mask daily while in public places.

Data from countries including Japan, South Korea and China suggest widespread mask usage might have reduced the spread of the virus compared to other countries.

But masks are not the only line of defense. The recommended 6-foot buffer for social distancing is also designed with the droplets and their spread in mind. Regular handwashing and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth are also highly important to reducing the transmission of the coronavirus.


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Justin Hale

So we have a large portion of humanity walking around wearing masks,convinced that they might have the CV, while feeling perfectly "normal". Well, what happens when this "emergency" is over? There are other diseases out there, tuberculosis and even the common flu which kills hundreds of my fellow Seniors every year. If you really cared you would be a mask wearer for the rest of your life, is that how you plan to live?

Wednesday, June 3
Marge samuelson

Quit equating this with the flu. Coronavirus is something else, extremely dangerous with no vaccine available, yet.

There is a flu vaccine every year for the flu.

People should stay home when they are sick. We tell our volunteers (mostly seniors) if your sick stay home or we will send you home.

We had a volunteer that said "I never get a flu vaccine" when I asked the other 6 people in the room if they got one all six hands went up. "Do you suppose because others are getting vaccinated is why you don't get sick?"

Same with distancing and masks. This will pass quicker if we follow the CDC protocol.

Thursday, June 4
Justin Hale

"Quit equating this with the flu. Coronavirus is something else, extremely dangerous with no vaccine available, yet. ".....

"About 5% to 20% of Americans get the flu each year. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized, according to the CDC. And since the 1970s, between 3,000 and 49,000 people have died from the flu each year. This is largely due to other infections and complications that can occur when you have the flu, particularly pneumonia.".....

So I guess those who could die from the flu shouldn't be protected? If you really believe that wearing a mask is the responsible thing to do then you better be wearing one for the rest of your life, will you be?

Friday, June 5
David Thielk

There are masks, and then, there are masks. Some people put all masks in the same category and extrapolate to all situations, and insist that there is no evidence that establishes that masks protect us, or protect those around us, from the COVID 19 virus. When I see those kinds of statements, I ask myself "I wonder what would constitute proof?" Would you put a bunch of people in room A with masks, and another bunch of people in room B. Introduce the virus in one room, and a placebo in the other, and then record the infection rate? The problem with establishing "proof" is that experimental studies are not ethical, and observational studied generally have too many variables.

The way I think about it is simple deductive thinking There is till a lot to learn, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that the primary mode of transfer of COVID 19 is via aerosol and/or droplets, particularly indoors, or when people are close to each other and there is low air exchange. The better engineered the mask is for preventing aerosol and droplet transfer (both in and out of someone), the more likely it is to slow or prevent the transmission of COVID 19 between people who are wearing masks. Surgical masks are standard use in hospitals with and without COVID 19 to prevent the transfer of aerosols and droplets that contain germs between people in medical facilities.

Does wearing a mask outside make a difference in terms of transmission rates? Probably not. Does wearing a mask inside make a difference? Depends on the kind of mask, how you use it, how close the contact is, and so on. But given the information we know, and a little deductive thinking, the answer is that is highly probable that wearing a well engineered mask does make a difference.

If you demand a scientific study to "prove" that masks will protect you, then you likely don't understand scientific methodology. It is similar to the argument about vaccines. There is simply no way to "prove" that any one vaccine is "safe." You can demonstrate, using scientific methods, their efficacy, usefulness and/or value in a large population, which has been done for many vaccines. But no amount of money or time will prove that any one vaccine is "safe."

Is there something about deductive thinking that people who are arguing against the use of masks don't get?

Friday, June 5
MK Faria

For those interested in reading some actual data, a well-informed piece:

And an interview with one of the authors:

And an interesting story on how 1 country successfully lowered its infection rate:

Masks are not the answer. I see them misused every time I go out. The burden for “flattening the curve” has been placed on us, when the only real solutions—identify, target, isolate, and treat early—were not taken up when they should have been. I place blame on our politicians, not the members of my community.

Saturday, June 6
David Thielk

MK Faria. Your first link is not data nor is it a scientific study. It is a commentary. The comments do include a lot of issues around using masks to prevent the spread of covid-19 . Unfortunately, it's common practice for individuals to go to the Internet, find an "expert opinion," and call that science. If you read through the comments, the writer does not preclude that the correct mask used well can prevent the spread of covid-19. He/she simply points out some of the many flaws with having a population relying on masks.

Saturday, June 6

A month ago, before masks en masse was the norm, physical distancing, particularly in close quarters (.e.g. grocery store aisles) seemed to have become second nature. I was acutely aware over the weekend of being crowded, even jostled, in aisles as masked shoppers pushed past, now fully confident both in their anonymity and perceived immunity. I see masks bunched around necks, under noses, hanging from rearview mirrors, taken from pockets along with one's phone. I see people touching, fussing, pulling masks on and off with no handwashing in between. It is folly to think this is a sustainable public health practice. Jefferson County flattened the curve, obliterated it, in April through physical distancing and shelter at home. It's only a matter of time before the next round of studies shows increased cases of impetigo, new infections, secondary infections, thanks to masks. Thanks to well-intentioned, fallible human beings who, out of fear, don't question, who set aside logic and common sense to follow the crowd. Masks provide a false sense of control and security. They make us feel a part of the solution when in reality it's too early to know what the solution is. It's frightening on so many levels. Good luck out there.

Wednesday, June 10
Justin Hale


Thursday, June 25