Days before America went on coronavirus quarantine this spring, Time Magazine published an excellent report on why Asian countries wear masks and Americans (up until that point) didn’t. The reason? There is little scientific evidence showing that masks actually work in preventing non-airborn illness such as the flu, common cold, and coronavirus from spreading. Earlier this year, the New York Times published a similar report showing dubious benefits, if any.
In light of that lack of evidence after decades of research, American health officials basically took the stance of, “If it ain’t proven to work, don’t do it.” They kept this stance until early April, when the CDC and WHO superstitiously started recommended them. Not because there were suddenly lots of scientific studies showing that masks actually work (there weren’t). Rather, when dealing with something that’s new and mysterious, humans understandably resort to “doesn’t hurt to try” approaches.
Only in this case, it does hurt to try. Here’s why well-intentioned but “false sense of security” health masks aren’t worth the hassle in the fight against coronavirus:
- Coronavirus is not airborne. You don’t need a hazmat suit or facemask to protect yourself. Even the “six feet apart” guidance is inaccurate science, since spittle, sneezing and coughing can vary depending on how strong the lungs behind it are. If you’re scared of coronavirus, it’ll take more than a mask to save you.
- Breathing trumps superstitious behaviors. Masks noticeably impede our ability to get the oxygen we need. So much so that even health officials will rip off their masks when push comes to shove, say when someone can’t understand you, when your skin is irritated, or on long-haul health flights as the above New York Times article demonstrates.
- Masks must be seal-proof to really work. As each of you have probably noticed over the last three months of quarantine, 99% of people that wear masks are loose and fast about how they wear them. They take them off frequently in close proximity settings, especially indoors where oxygen levels are even less than outside. When this happens, you undermine all of your efforts leading up to those moments when the seal is broken, or when you wear a mask loosely or below your nose because it’s more comfortable. Pathogens don’t wait to enter your body when it’s a fair fight. They can and will strike at anytime and with any slight nudge or tug at your mask. What’s more, in the little evidence that shows that masks do work, you need to use a new one every time to get those slight benefits, so reusing masks and retouching them likely won’t net you the little benefits you seek.
- Wearing masks outdoors or alone in your car is like wearing a condom alone in bed. ‘Nuff said.
- Human immune systems crush coronavirus. You have millions of years of illness-fighting white blood cells on your side. They have protected you and our ancestors from not only extinction but everyday disease for hundreds of thousands of years. They are always fighting for you and early evidence suggests they are utterly destroying the vast majority of coronavirus that we come in contact with. In fact, only 56 in 1 million people die from coronavirus, according to the latest global figures. That’s basically 1 in a million chances of dying, meaning yours, mine, and our immune systems are overwhelmingly winning. Trust in that.
- Masks impede your ability to connect socially. Evolution gave us faces and immune systems for a reason. Lets use them both and face this pandemic in the evidence-based, not fear approach, way we should. Let’s not let something that’s killing fewer than 1% of those it infects (roughly 5-10x the fatality rate of the common flu) scare you as much as we have so far. Yes there will be casualties, especially the elderly and those with chronic health. But herd immunity, weather naturally exposed or vaccinated, is the only way we beat this thing.
If you choose to continue wearing a mask, either legally or voluntarily, even half-halfheartedly as described above, I won’t judge or shame you. I’ll miss your face and clear voice in the short-term, and I’ll sigh a little at the ill-informed message it implies (i.e. don’t trust evolutionary immune systems, even at the expense of faith in humanity!). But I ain’t mad, and I ain’t ignorant for saying the above.
NOTE: If lots of new evidence comes out showing that masks work against non-airborne illness, as opposed to sudden fear, I reserve the right to change my opinion on this at any time. Until then, I’ll wash my hands, respect people’s distance, exercise faith in the human immune system, and keep showing my smiling face in public.