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Masks Mandated to Slow COVID - Do They Work?

Face Masks
(Photo: Charles Fishburne/VPM News)

Nowhere have face masks been more evident than among protesters seeking racial justice this week.

Natasha Crosby is a first-time protester who says she had been watching the demonstrations on TV and came to join them in Richmond Tuesday night.  She says, “I am wearing a mask because COVID is still out here.  And so I’m trying to protect myself.”

Bill Petri , professor of infectious diseases at the University of  Virginia, says he was happily surprised to see so many of the demonstrators wearing facemasks and that, “ I think that seeing the face masks used in demonstrations really is making the point across the country that this is the new norm until we get a vaccine and we are out of this pandemic.”

Slowly, face masks are becoming part of the American culture and Governor Northam has given that effort a boost by mandating their use inside public places in Virginia.  He says, “I am not looking for people to get in trouble by not wearing a mask, but I am looking for people to please do the right thing.”

 But there are questions about whether they work well.  Petri says he believes they do.  “What they accomplish is they prevent a lot of the droplets with a cough or a sneeze or even just with regular talking from spreading, that’s what the cloth mask catches.”

But where is the scientific proof?   Brian Nosek, executive director of the Center for Open Science at the University of Virginia, says, “Science accumulates evidence slowly, compared to the pace of a pandemic. There is no way we will get to scientific certainty, in any particular way, at the time that we need it,  which is now, today, yesterday!”

But Nosek says he doesn’t need to wait for proof. “How hard is it for me to wear a mask? It’s an easy decision for me to wear a mask when I am out in public because it a) allows me to engage in the economic activity that I am hoping we can promote and hope to rebuild in the state of Virginia and b) there is enough evidence that it actually may make a difference .”

There is a new computer model that says it does make a difference if people comply. 

De Kai is an American computer scientist, with joint appointments at UC Berkeley’s International Science Institute and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.  He says, “If 80 or 90 percent of a closed population were to don a mask, COVID 19 infection totals would statistically drop to one-eighth or less the number of infections in an outbreak where nobody did anything.”

In Japan where it’s common to wear masks, the death rate is only two percent of America’s.  De Kai says his forecasting model supports growing evidence that masks work, even homemade. “Absolutely, you can easily make good enough masks out of ordinary materials like coffee filters or old t-shirts or bandanas.”

And he says, he believes people will wear them. “Sure, it’s already happened in the recent past when wildfires got out of control , many Americans took to wearing masks because the smoke and particles got so bad.  Locking down our mouths and noses gives us far more freedom than locking down our full bodies in our homes or hospitals or graveyards.  Americans are realizing that masking up is actually the best way to defend our liberty.”

Two-thirds of Americans polled in a recent survey say they expect masks to be a “normal part of life” for the next 12 months at least.

 And for now, it’s the law.