Why wearing a mask is not only OK, it’s your duty as an American

  • A mask is not only OK, it’s your duty as an American

In a seemingly sudden about-face last week, President Trump tweeted a photo of himself wearing a mask with the caption: “We are United in our effort to defeat the Invisible China Virus, and many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask... There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President!”

While this likely is tied more to his recent polling and concerns about his image with voters, whatever the intentions of this change of heart and mind, this is the time to embrace the opportunity to encourage nationwide mask wearing.

Why are there so many people seemingly willing to choose the mask conversa- tion — it cannot be called a debate, as a majority consensus exists among the healthcare and scientific communities both here and abroad that widespread mask usage is an essential part of slowing the spread of COVID-19 — as the literal hill they are willing to die on?

Why has mask wearing become so political? How are some of these outrageous conspiracy theories continuing to not only circulate on social media, but propagate?

I’m not going to wear a mask because I’m confused by all the conflicting information...

This is a fair assessment. With the copious amounts of information available at all of our fingertips, it can be difficult to establish the truth from fiction, opinion from fact, and conspiracy theory from legitimate research.

It is crucial that each one of us remembers to be skeptical, and do our own research when we can.

Seek out information that hopefully carries as little bias as possible. When you read something on social media and you are not familiar with the validity of the source, search the web for more information about it — if there are multiple reputable sources with a similar story, it is likely real. On the other hand, if the source is unheard of or known not to be highly credible, you should consider the validity of what you read more carefully.

There is a large contingency of satirical news sites — both liberal and conservative — that create fake stories which can be pretty convincing. When you read a story and the website is not familiar to you, take a few seconds to navigate to their About Us page or check the bottom of their website. Most will clearly state if they are satirical. One noted example is a story about Representative Omar wanting to remove references to Christianity from the Constitution and trying to rile up religious conservatives against her.

That was from the site Taters Gonna Tate. In their About Us page, they clearly state “Everything on this website is fiction. It is not a lie and it is not fake news because it is not real. If you believe that it is real, you should have your head examined.”

Most of these satirical sites are referred to as “clickbait” and designed to get you to be outraged and share it. The more you share the more they make in ad revenue. 

So be skeptical. But, being skeptical is not a free pass — don’t simply be skeptical and use that as an excuse to refuse to act at all or to justify your actions.

If your mask protects you, why do I need to wear one?

Masks are a two-way street, but the main purpose of a mask is not for keeping the virus out of your body. it is for reducing the likelihood that you will transmit the virus to others via droplets and aerosols expelled while talking and breathing.

This is called source control, as the droplets are not allowed to expel out into the open air from an incubator. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear a mask just because you think you aren’t sick or positive.

First, it is widely understood that asymptomatic carriers pose a very real threat to exposing others. Second, while we all want to believe a negative test clears us, the issue with that belief is that there are both false negatives and false positives, as well as delayed reactions.

You could test negative one day, come into contact with someone the next, and now be an asymptomatic carrier thinking you are COVID- free. This will likely cause you to let your guard down with a false sense of security and not abide by social distancing rules as strictly, furthering the problem.

Most masks don’t work at all.

This argument is usually accompanied by the fact that the size of each particle of virus is .0125 microns, which is much smaller than the filter size for even an N95 mask at 0.3 microns.

This is an example of a logical fallacy. Yes, the individual virus particles are smaller than the filtering power of most masks, but that ignores how viruses work and their epidemiology. A single virus particle doesn’t just float around in the air by itself hoping to be inhaled through the “hole” of a mask and enter your body.

In fact, they clump together and are often suspended in liquids and bodily f luids. These suspensions are much larger than 0.3 microns, not only making N95 masks very effective, but making even simple cloth masks effective as well. While experts agree that any type of facial covering is better than none at all, not all are created equal. When choosing the right mask for you, do some research and choose one that will provide you with the most protection while being as comfortable as possible.

Masks aren’t completely effective. Why should I bother with wearing one?

Masks are a tool used in the fight against the spread and are not 100% effective on their own, but when combined with social distancing and adequate hygiene, they are very powerful at slowing the spread.

Nations worldwide have flattened and even reversed their infection curves in the last few months — the common denominator among them? — mandated wearing of masks along with social distancing guidelines. If you still refuse to wear a mask because you believe they are not 100% effective, consider this: cancer treatments are not 100% effective. If you were diagnosed with cancer would you refuse a treatment that was only effective 95% of the time? If your wearing of a mask reduces the chance that someone around you loses their life, isn’t it worth the minor inconvenience it causes you?

“They” (health officials, politicians, the media) can’t even agree and keep changing the guidelines. How can I trust them?

There is truth to this statement as well. Early in the pandemic when little was known about how the virus was transmitted and how contagious it truly was, guidance was not clear on masks. While it was believed that masks were helpful, the evidence that mask mandates would be effective tools didn’t yet exist.

Many officials worried that the supply of masks and personal protective equipment was far less than the demand would be if a mask mandate were put in place. Couple that with an overall unwillingness to follow such mandates, a culture that shamed mask wearing, and that government officials just didn’t want to have to go up against it for fear of retribution. Even now, when we know the efficacy of mask wearing, local government officials are either afraid to act due to public outrage or have acted and are already facing protests at city council meetings and recall elections.

In other countries where widespread mask usage was more normal, after a few months strong data existed showing when 80-95% of a population wears masks, their COVID cases, severity of cases, and number of deaths all decreased. Now that masks are widely available and there is not a shortage keeping healthcare workers from protecting themselves, the guidelines are clear: Social Distance, Wash Your Hands, and Wear a Mask in Public.

More people get the flu every year. It’s just like the flu. Why is this a bigger deal (and causing inconvenience in my life)?

At this point, the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 both in the United States and worldwide seem to have outpaced even some of the worst years we have seen regarding the seasonal flu. Still, it draws comparisons to that illness. We have decades of research regarding seasonal flu and only around six months’ research into the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

So far, we know that COVID-19 could be both more contagious and dead- lier than the flu. However, the long-term effects that COVID-19 may pose are still up in the air. Preliminary results show that COVID-19 has a higher likelihood of leading to pneumonia and appears to leave scar tissue in the lungs and could be creating longterm issues for those who have recovered.

Death rates from COVID- 19 are highest among the elderly and especially those with pre-existing conditions, but many younger people are contracting it as well. In the more severe cases among those 18-65, most develop aggressive pneumonia and are said “to be on the brink of death” by many healthcare workers. Ventilators and ICU beds are having to be prior- itized for these younger patients who should have been less susceptible in the first place.

First it’s masks, next a mandatory vaccine, then tracking implants or something even worse. Enough is enough! (The Slippery Slope Argument)

The premise behind this one is a little tougher to buy. Considering the freedoms we have given up over the last two and a half centuries for the greater good, mandatory masks simply are not the tipping point.

We have seat belt laws, laws against drunk driving, laws against smoking in most public and private places and protections against secondhand smoke, and countless more.

Most of us give permission to social media sites, technology companies, and more to access our personal data and information, track us, and provide that infor- mation to advertisers every day. It perplexes many that the politicized conversation about masks is the hill that many people have — possibly and literally — chosen to die on. Why are masks differ- ent? Hopefully one day these mandates will no longer be needed. 

It’s my right not to wear a mask because FREEDOM!

You’re correct. The government does not have the right or ability to force you to wear a mask. (Although it is interesting that many of the same people who push these claims are the same ones who want to limit body autonomy for other topics that they don’t agree with).

That being said, private businesses absolutely have the right to refuse you service or entry. Remember when people fought so hard to ensure that a bakery in Colorado had the right to refuse service to a gay couple? Same concept — you can’t have it both ways. The same goes for public spaces, as you pose the threat of being a danger to others. So, if you want to exercise your free- dom to not wear a mask, stay home and do so!

OK, I get it, but we need to reopen America for business as soon as possible to prevent more tragedy.

This is exactly why widespread mask usage is so important. In a recent collaborative study including researchers from the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, University of Cambridge, University College London, and the Population Research Institute in Finland, it was found that if just 80% of a population wore masks it would be more effective than a full lockdown and quarantine. Widespread mask usage will allow us to reopen the country while keeping people safe from each other.

How to deal with someone still choosing not to wear a mask.

What can we do to encourage widespread mask usage? First off, don’t ever shame anyone for not wearing a mask — in most people it initiates a fight or flight response, which does nothing to convince them to put on a mask.

Instead, try asking them if you can provide them with a mask. Be courteous. Don’t start a fight about it but let them know that you are concerned for their safety as well as your own. Attempt to educate the person about why it is important for both of you to wear masks. If you are in a private business that requests masks be worn, let an employee or manager know about your concern. At the end of the day, we know there will be some people that will just flat out refuse to wear a mask, but if enough of us do wear masks, we should be able to mitigate the spread.

Our country needs us, and we need each other. Let’s stand up and do the right thing — wear a mask to allow us to truly reopen America!