As states begin reopening after being on lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the surge of people heading out to mingle in public has produced a drastic increase in COVID-19 cases in some areas.
It’s easy to feel helpless and disheartened in the midst of a pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 128,000 Americans (surpassing the number of Americans lost to World War I). But the truth is, we absolutely have the power to slow the spread of the coronavirus and save the lives of our fellow Americans with one small action: wearing face masks.
Proof that face masks work to slow the spread of infectious disease can be found in data comparing areas of the world where the majority of residents wear face masks with parts of the world where fewer citizens wear face masks. In certain countries, such as Japan, where residents have been far less resistant to wearing masks than Americans have been, cases of COVID-19 have slowed dramatically, while they have accelerated here in the U.S.
Somehow, the debate over whether or not to wear masks in public has become heated and divisive here in the U.S. Many argue that it’s no more of an inconvenience than washing our hands, while others insist that enforcing mask-wearing infringes on our individual freedoms. Plus, there’s no federal mandate regarding the use of face masks, and state governments have been left to create their own rules, which now vary widely.
Strong Argument For The Effectiveness Of Masks
New estimates coming from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), however, show just how big of a life-saving difference wearing masks can make.
Basing their estimations on current rates of mask-wearing and social distancing measures, IHME’s recently updated coronavirus model predicts that the American death toll due to the coronavirus will soar beyond 179,000 by Oct. 1.
However, when the model is adjusted to show 95% of the U.S. population (theoretically) wearing face masks in public, that projection of American lives lost falls to 146,000.
This means 33,000 human lives in the U.S. could be saved over the next three months if we all just slip a mask over our noses and mouths when we leave the house.
The Virus Loves A Naked Face
We can already see that masks work to prevent the spread of COVID-19 here in the U.S. when we compare states that have required masks in public with those states where mask-related rules are more relaxed (or nonexistent).
Consider these findings The Philadelphia Inquirer reported: “In the 11 states that mandate wearing masks in public — including New York, Illinois and Michigan — new cases have fallen by 25% over the last two weeks. Other states that are less stringent and require mask-wearing by employees and patrons of certain businesses have seen an overall 12% drop in cases.”
Compare this to states in which masks are required only for employees of certain businesses, where there has been a 70% increase in new cases.
The takeaway is clear: If masks aren’t worn, coronavirus cases will increase.
Why Do Masks Work?
Infectious diseases like COVID-19 spread when particles pass from one person to another in tiny droplets of mucus and saliva. It’s not just about coughing or sneezing — even if an infected person talks or eats within 6 feet of another person, their infectious particles could land on the uninfected person and make their way into that person’s mouth, nose or eyes.
Wearing a covering over the nose and mouth — even if it’s a cloth mask — will help prevent those particles from being transmitted. According to one study out of India, the particles from a sneeze were found to travel up to 16 feet from the uncovered mouth of the sneezer.
With a cloth mask covering the nose and mouth, the sneeze’s “droplet plume is concentrated within 1.25 meters (approximately 4 feet) from the individual.”
Bottom Line: Wear A Mask And Don’t Put People At Risk
According to the IHME’s director, Christopher Murray, the coronavirus is currently on course to intensify later this summer, but we have the power to diminish its toll on American lives.
“There is no doubt that even as states open up, the United States is still grappling with a large epidemic on a course to increase beginning in late August and intensifying in September,” Murray said in a statement.
“People need to know that wearing masks can reduce transmission of the virus by as much as 50%, and those who refuse are putting their lives, their families, their friends and their communities at risk.”