It’s Time to Face Facts and Cover up, America: Masks Work

In San Francisco an impromptu visual survey as I have my daily run, walk the dogs and make the necessary shopping excursions via bicycle are that a minority of the local population is wearing masks.

Excerpted from WIRED 3.28.3020

Official advice has been confusing, but the science isn’t hard to grok. Everyone should cover up.

WHEN YOU LOOK at photos of Americans during the 1918 influenza pandemic, one feature stands out above all else: masks.

The collective evidence makes a strong case for universal mask wearing during a pandemic.

Face Masks 1918 WIRED 3.30.2020.jpg

In 1918 Fabric, usually white gauze, covered nearly every face. Across the country, public health experts recommended universal mask wearing, and some cities ordered residents to wear them under penalty of fine or imprisonment.

The Red Cross made thousands of cloth masks and distributed them for free. Newspapers published instructions for sewing masks at home. “Make any kind of a mask … and use it immediately and at all times,” the Boston commissioner of health pleaded. “Even a handkerchief held in place over the face is better than nothing.”

After the 1918 pandemic, the prophylactic use of masks among the general public largely fell out of favor in America and much of the West. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has almost never advised healthy people to wear masks in public to prevent influenza or other respiratory diseases.

In the past few months, with medical supplies dangerously diminished, the CDC, US surgeon general Jerome Adams, and the World Health Organization have urged people not to buy masks, paradoxically claiming that masks are both essential for the safety of health care workers and incapable of protecting the public from Covid-19. (WIRED’s editorial staff, like the CDC, suggests that healthy people not wear masks.)

Masks are not a substitute for other interventions; they must always be used in combination with social distancing and hand hygiene.

But even during a lockdown, some people need to leave their homes for essential task, such as buying food and medicine.

With diseases like Covid-19, many individuals may be infected but asymptomatic, spreading the virus without realizing it. In parallel, some healthy people may not be able to adequately isolate themselves from infected partners, family members, and housemates. Masks could help reduce the spread of disease in all these scenarios.

“Masks work in both directions,” virologist Julian Tang explained. “If everybody wears a mask, it’s double protection. Even if a mask is not 100 percent sealed, it is still a significant reduction in risk of transmission.”