Masks as Theatre ?

A recent blog comment claimed masks, especially cloth masks, were only “theatre.” That’s simply not true, and you can prove it yourself… but first a few basics.

A cough can travel as fast as 50 mph and expel almost 3,000 droplets in just one go. Sneezes can travel up to 100 mph and create upwards of 100,000 droplets. Several studies found that larger droplets [from someone not wearing a mask] easily carried for more than two meters and as far as six meters. Those droplets and aerosols can hang around for hours, and longer in poorly ventilated areas.

The British medical journal The Lancet recently released a meta-analysis on studies dealing with “person-to-person virus transmission.” Among the many findings was one that masks were an effective way to reduce transmission, since they function as an effective “source control” restricting the flow of droplets and aerosols.

This past July 16th, the CDC released a statement specifically addressing cloth face coverings, stating that they should be used, and that studies showed that they were effective in reducing the spread of Covid-19. Masks block direct airflow, which reduces the amount of virus expelled and the distance it can travel… and that reduces contagion.

And if you’re still skeptical… look at the world map. Places with high masking rates and social distancing are doing MUCH better than we are.

By themselves, masks aren’t a cure-all. They are rated at reducing the risk of virus transmission by roughly 70%, but many flu vaccines don’t do much better. Masks also have one other problem. My mask protects you twice as well as it protects me. In effect, my fate lies more in your hands than mine. Now, that’s always been true in every functioning society, but most people don’t see it or like to admit it. We are indeed our brother, or sister’s keeper.

And that’s a problem in a country where some 40% of the population believes a President whose operating maxim is effectively, “Me first, screw you.”

Now…for that personal proof. Hold your hand fully extended in front of your mouth. Cough, hard. If you’re reasonably healthy, you should be able to feel the airflow from your cough on your fingers. For most people that’s a distance of a little less than three feet. Put on a mask, and do it again. When I do it, and I have fairly strong lungs, I can’t feel any airflow through the mask [mine is cloth, with HEPA filter inserts]. Some airflow will escape through the edges of the mask, but any aerosols or droplets emitted will stay close to the body, and combined with social distancing and adequate ventilation, will effectively protect others.

As for masks being theatre… that’s not quite true. Wearing a mask isn’t theatre, but not wearing one is… and it’s called tragedy.

10 thoughts on “Masks as Theatre ?”

  1. Lourain says:

    Many people have problems understanding risk assessment. They want black/white, 0%/100%. Reducing risk doesn’t enter their calculations. No, wearing a mask will not insure that you do not get Covid-19, but it will reduce the risk for your neighbors. Not eliminate the risk, but reduce it. Isn’t that worth a little discomfort?
    Sadly, some people have a list of reasons not to wear a mask. Most of these reasons boil down to, “Your’e not the boss of me!” Yes, very juvenile.

    1. Bill says:

      Agreed. Many people think that if they get this virus that they will die. This is no doubt due to the completely nonsensical 3.6% IFR number the WHO put out in March. The ‘experts’ still don’t have a real number, but the latest data has it about 0.26% on average. Every week there is more data (not widely published, or it would damage the narrative) that reduces the number even further. This is why reports are focused on cases, rather than illnesses. Our local paper ran a story a month or two ago hyping an ‘outbreak’ in a local care facility. Fifty one staff and residents tested positive!! Then there was the little sentence “No one showed any symptoms”. So, if people aren’t sick, is there an ‘outbreak’?
      One reason to not wear a mask is to frustrate the panic industry. Just think – flu season is coming up. Most people are already wearing masks. People will still get the flu. Some will die. What will the panic industry recommend? More lockdowns? HAZMAT suits? It will probably depend on which party is in the White House? Notice that I capitalized White?

      1. Curtis says:

        So Bill, your response to a well-reasoned argument about why masks work is to say that we shouldn’t need masks because no one is actually dying from COVID-19?

        1. Or because no one in his community is presently dying from it?

        2. Bill says:

          Actually, no one IS dying from COVID19. They are dying from their bodies’ immune response to the virus. My response is that there will always be another virus. Here is the truth about this one. It is now endemic. Pretty much everyone will be exposed to it eventually. There will never be a useful vaccine. A very small fraction of the population will have a poor reaction. If the medical people can develop an effective treatment (HCQ/Zn for example), fewer will die. This is the way it has always been except for the last ~100 years. This is nothing until we have finished developing common bacteria with full resistance to all antibiotics. After that we will go back to dying of toothaches and mosquito bites.
          My other point is that, if we have now decided that masks and distancing and lockdowns are now the standard response to any virus that might make make someone sick, then say goodbye to civilization.

          1. Lourain says:

            Why do you think that there will never be an effective vaccine for Covid-19?

  2. Lourain says:

    I used to have discussions with my students (high school) about seat belt/shoulder harness use (and later, air bags). I always had one with the argument, “I know someone who would have died if he/she had been wearing a seat belt!” Thank you, kids, I’d rather play the odds.
    There are no guarantees in life, except that one day we all will die, but I can do some things to reduce the odds of certain types of death. I wear a seat belt, I don’t dance in open fields during thunderstorms and as a courtesy to my neighbors, I wear a mask in public.

  3. Michael Creek says:

    When I was growing up in a suburb with a lot of trees and plants it was very common to dispose of the green waste by burning. Now, the local councils have prohibited this kind of burning because of pollution concerns. Green waste is now largely recycled by these same councils. We, the citizens, have given up something personally convenient so that the entire community might benefit.
    Wearing a mask might not personally benefit you, but may well help protect others in the community. Indeed, the person that you help may well be a member of your family, your next door neighbour or a friend. Individually a small inconvenience, but when an entire community accepts this responsibility then the result is that everyone benefits. In Australia, we would say “It’s a no brainer”, meaning that it’s obvious.

  4. Gabriel says:

    I have to admit that one of my concerns prior to some reading a minute ago, was breathing one’s own CO2 exhalations, particularly for those wearing masks for hours on a daily basis, however it looks as if that may only be an issue with an N95 respirator.
    I do agree with the comments regarding wearing a mask out of respect for others if nothing else. I learned that lesson some time ago from watching the reactions of migrant workers to those not wearing a mask when nearby.

  5. Tom says:

    A scientific and easily understood summary of specifically Covid-19 vaccine development can be found at the Mayo Clinic site.

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