I’ve been wearing a mask in public since early in the pandemic, when scientists started to say that even a simple cloth covering could help keep us from spewing the tiny water droplets and vapor that carry the virus.
I knew that my old blue bandana, worn bank-robber style, wouldn’t do much to protect me from the virus — but I knew that it would do a lot to protect those around me. Just as I like to pause and hold the door for others, I was pleased that I could contribute to my community’s overall safety and health. It’s a courtesy, a small way that I could be generous and put others first.
A new rule implemented this week in our state requires that all of us in Washington wear masks when we’re out in public, unless we’re outdoors and able to stay at least six feet away from everyone else.
This rule is long overdue, and I look forward to continuing to wear a mask.
Some people are suggesting that a mandate infringes on individual liberty. On one level, I agree that this rule shouldn’t be necessary. Personal choice should be all we need to mask up. It’s simple good neighborliness and citizenship.
I don’t cut ahead of others in line.
I stop my car and smile as I wave pedestrians across at crosswalks.
And I wear a mask in public to slow the spread of this virus.
Carriers don’t show symptoms the first few days they’re infectious. And some never show symptoms at all — but can still infect others with a disease that could kill them.
Thankfully, wearing masks works!
A new worldwide study finds that countries which quickly required masks had far fewer deaths.
“It wasn’t just by a few percent, it was up to a hundred times less mortality,” said Christopher Leffler of Virginia Commonwealth University, one of the study’s authors. “The countries that introduced masks from the very beginning of their outbreak have had hardly any deaths.”
A study from Cambridge University earlier this month found out the same thing.
“Research shows that even homemade masks made from cotton T-shirts or dishcloths can prove 90 percent effective at preventing transmission,” it concluded.
In Springfield, Mo., two hair stylists who tested positive for COVID-19 managed to cut the hair of 140 people without infecting a single one of them, nor their six co-workers. Why? Because the two stylists wore cloth masks and their employer set up social distancing with salon chairs and staggering of appointments.
But how can simple cloth keep out microscopic viruses? I’ve heard that question a lot. A distinguished member of our community recently suggested to me that it’s like trying to keep mosquitos out with a chain link fence.
I like the visual, but it’s missing a few key points. Science tells us that a virus can’t fly through the air on its own. It has to travel between us in water vapor or tiny droplets, which we expel forcefully when we talk and explosively when we sneeze or cough.
So a better analogy would be that the virus is coming like a swarm of wingless mosquitoes floating in helium balloons. A chain link fence will keep them out quite nicely, just as a cloth mask over our nose and mouth captures our moist breath (and the viruses it carries) in the same way.
I’ve seen lots of Facebook posts making all sorts of pretty far-out claims about masks and their supposed health impacts. My favorite response was from a surgeon who talked about how he wears a mask for his full 12-hour shift. If he’s fine to perform surgery in a mask, I’m not worried about its effect on me. I also enjoyed seeing a nurse with a finger oximeter, showing 99 percent blood oxygenation levels while wearing a variety of face coverings, her eyes showing a smile even if her mouth was covered.
To double-check, I chatted last week with Dr. Rachel Wood, Lewis County’s top health officer. I learned that she was a family practice doctor who researched bubonic plague (you know, the Black Death of the Middle Ages) in prairie dogs before becoming a public health leader.
She confirmed that masks, along with serious dedication to proper hygiene and six feet of physical distancing, will make a real difference.
“Here in Lewis County we take care of each other,” Dr. Wood said. “Part of taking care of each other is wearing a mask.”
I’m puzzled and saddened that some people are talking about turning their backs on their neighbors by refusing to take part in the new rule. Some folks are printing up official-looking (but bogus) cards that suggest they have a medical condition which they are not legally required to disclose, and that they won’t be wearing a mask.
There’s a word for that kind of thing.
It’s also corrosive to those people who actually do have real, dire medical conditions protected by disability laws.
Here’s the bottom line. Wearing masks, being diligent about practicing social distancing, washing our hands and avoiding touching our faces will make a real difference in slowing the spread of this thing and saving lives.
The “Greatest Generation” won World War II by making sacrifices we couldn’t imagine today. Hundreds of thousands of our boys fought and died on foreign shores. Their families at home made do with ration cards that limited their food and gasoline. They covered their windows at night to keep enemy bombers from attacking.
They knew sacrifice — and they achieved victory.
Do we still have that sense of comradery, of common cause, of willingness to sacrifice? Do we still know how to come together as Americans and win?
Folks, there are some really hard things in life. Wearing a mask to fight a plague isn’t one of them. Please mask up. I’ll do it for you. Please do it for me, and for all of us.
Brian Mittge is masked but still smiling. Drop him a line at email@example.com.