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The Efficiency of Masks

Sam Taylor

Posted on July 20, 2020 21:18

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Fueled by the inconsistency of academic and governmental positions on the subject, people avidly disagree on the efficiency of masks in mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic. But an examination of the evidence reveals a striking epidemiological consensus in favor of mask use.

In light of the current pandemic, immense controversy has arisen over preventive measures against COVID-19. Perhaps this is best exemplified by the "mask debate," wherein displays of vehement contention between proponents and opponents of government-sanctioned mask use are commonplace.

On one side of the debate, people think of masks as an altruistic barrier against COVID-19, as a respectful gesture to those susceptible to the virus's effects. On the other side, face coverings have received an acutely negative connotation, even stigmatization. 

There are a number of reasons for this stigma: masks are perpetually uncomfortable, hinder social interaction, are often seen as an infringement of liberty, and (some believe) harmfully limit oxygen intake—which belief, it should be noted, has been refuted time and again (timestamp: 20:06-22:15). But it seems one of the principal reasons for people's ardent distrust of masks is the inconsistency of authoritative views on the subject. 

Near the outset of the pandemic, various academics expressed doubts as to the efficiency of masks in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, while others argued for mask use in what seemed like arbitrary dissension. This lack of consistency has, understandably, led some to doubt the credibility of epidemiological institutions. 

However, such doubts arise when people overlook a crucial aspect of empirical science: as new information becomes available, scientific consensus changes. This is particularly true of rapidly developing phenomena like pandemics. Indeed, despite the previous misgivings some epidemiologists had about mask efficiency, the CDC now concludes that masks "are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease," as per press time. 

This is because masks largely block airborne respiratory droplets (which we now know are the primary mechanism of COVID-19's spread). An exemplary demonstration of this was given by Dr. Richard Davis, a microbiologist for St. Joseph Health at Providence College. Davis coughed, talked, and sang on two sets of petri dishes, wearing a mask while doing so on one set but coughing without one on the other. Bacterial growth on the latter set (the one Davis coughed on without a face covering) was significantly greater than that on the former, which was shielded from Davis's expectoration by a mask.

As Davis explains (timestamp: 3:40-7:40), the contrasting levels of bacterial growth on the petri dishes illustrate that masks significantly block the sorts of bacteria-carrying droplets on which COVID-19 travels.

Irrespective of past academic dissent, the current scientific consensus is that masks are an effective utility in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Evidently, unless we want to prioritize our own comfort and social enjoyment over public health and swift(er) economic recovery, we ought to adhere to empirically-substantiated advice and wear masks.

Sam Taylor

Posted on July 20, 2020 21:18

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Free masks, free food and even free COVID-19 testing.

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