Hot Topic: Masks for Public Use
The controversy surrounding mask use centers on not only are they effective, but also on whether or not being mandated to wear masks opposes personal rights. This blog post gives not only the best scientific study results I could find, but also addresses the other important issues surrounding mask usage. Please understand that this blog post shares my personal standpoint, not the thoughts of all board members for Hero’s Path Palliative Care.
First of all, I tend to get all of my COVID-19 information from sources that I trust, not mass media. One of my favorite sources is the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP). On April 1, they published a post about public use of masks for COVID-19. It states:
“As noted in a previous commentary, the limited data we have for COVID-19 strongly support the possibility that SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—is transmitted by inhalation of both droplets and aerosols near the source. It is also likely that people who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic throughout the duration of their infection are spreading the disease in this way.
We do not recommend requiring the general public who do not have symptoms of COVID-19-like illness to routinely wear cloth or surgical masks because:
There is no scientific evidence they are effective in reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission
Their use may result in those wearing the masks to relax other distancing efforts because they have a sense of protection
We need to preserve the supply of surgical masks for at-risk healthcare workers.”
However, because things have been rapidly progressing, a peer-reviewed research article was published after this CIDRAP post that does provide the absent scientific data needed to support the use of cloth face mask use by the public. You can read this important study here: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acsnano.0c03252
A summary of the study is that cloth masks made of cotton and flannel layers that are properly fitted can provide just as much filtration of COVID-19 sized particles as a properly fitted N95 face mask. The results of this study assure me that there IS scientific evidence that certain types of handmade face masks do protect against and prohibit SARS-CoV-2 transmission, if worn properly (no gaps). It also addresses the concern that mandating mask wearing by the public would deplete the health care workers’ availability of PPE, because people can purchase or make handmade masks. The only point that it does not address is that people will be more lenient with social distancing when wearing a mask. I greatly respect both of these sources, and am confident that widespread use of masks would help decrease the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
Next, I want to address the concerns that by mandating wearing masks, people’s rights are being trampled. I have seen many social media posts complaining about having to wear masks in public and outright refusal to do so for various reasons. First of all, we all want to see the economy reopened as soon as possible. To do that, we need to think about how to keep the transmission rate as low as possible to not overwhelm health care systems and to help protect the vulnerable.
First, let me address the vulnerable. While my medically complex, fragile son was alive, we had to socially isolate our family for about 7 months out of the year, and we could not travel more than a few hours away from his health care providers. We did everything we could to protect my son, even pulling my other children out of public school and homeschooling to give him the best chance at surviving. But every year he would still get sick 1-2 times, requiring a PICU stay and a ventilator for several months afterward. He would also have congestive heart failure and other complications after a common cold, which is why we had to go to extreme measures to protect him. It was not enough for my family to do this on our own, though. We don’t live on an island. Other people’s decisions impacted us. I don’t know how he would get sick, but he would.
It’s not just the responsibility of the vulnerable among us to stay home. It won’t keep them safe. It’s all of our responsibility to make decisions with the vulnerable in mind. Hopefully we can do this without needing our government and other businesses to mandate this, but I believe we have seen just as many people who make decisions with the vulnerable in mind as those who make decisions with only themselves in mind. To me, this is akin to the banning of smoking in public or making driving drunk a crime. It’s why it’s polite to cover a cough or sneeze. Our decisions certainly impact others around us, and when individual bad decisions end up impacting a large enough portion of society, regulations are set in place to ensure that one person’s rights don’t take away another person’s rights.
So what about the mask issue? I believe there is sufficient evidence to support widespread mask use. I also believe that it badly impacts others when an individual decides not to wear a mask in public. With all the bad information being propagated out there, it’s time to consider what is the best way to bring about the goals we all want to see. Is it fighting over our own personal “rights” and comfort? Or is it finding ways to bring about reopening of the economy AND helping to protect the rights of the vulnerable? Wearing a mask can be uncomfortable for some, and maybe really difficult for those who have anxiety issues or have developmental difficulties. But for MOST of us, it is a very very small sacrifice to make for the well-being of others and society as a whole. How about you? What small or big ideas do you have that could help the well-being of others and society right now? Will you wear a mask in public? Why or why not?