When it comes to preventing the spread of COVID, masks work.
General evidence is the Massachusetts experience. The number of people getting the virus increased steadily until there was a strong push for everyone to wear masks. Then it steadily declined and the community spread of the disease is now minimal.
There is more impressive evidence. The Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that a man flew from China to Toronto and right after tested positive for COVID. He had worn a mask on the flight and none of the 25 people seated near him got the disease.
In another instance reported by the Washington Post, two hairstylists who had COVID had close contact with 140 clients in Missouri back in May. They had been wearing masks and none of their customers got sick.
CDC Director Robert Redfield a few weeks ago predicted to a Senate panel that masks will be more effective than a vaccine in preventing the spread of COVID. His presumption was that a vaccine will not work in some 30 percent of the population. Masks, he said, afford at least some protection to 100 percent of the population.
Our unscientific guess is that he was going out on a limb a bit to stress the importance of masks.
This offers hope as schools have opened and we approach a time when cold weather will make outdoor activities less attractive.
This week, two students in Sandwich were confirmed to have the virus. One of them, a high schooler, reportedly had attended in-person class in the days before receiving the positive COVID result. But that student and his or her classmates had worn masks while at school, so the risk of exposure was minimal.
And if masks had been worn at the White House...who knows, it might have been a slow news week on the national beat this week.
We hope mask wearing will become a social norm. Most people now wear them in public spaces indoors, but we were disturbed not long ago to see half a dozen people in a grocery store, both men and women, wearing masks drooped below their noses. We are not quite there yet as far as social norms go. We can do better.
We wear masks for others, not ourselves. Masks might provide us with some protections, but it’s for the protection of others that truly counts. The passenger on the China-to-Toronto flight illustrates that well.
When there is something so widespread and ubiquitous as COVID, our tendency is to think about and worry about ourselves. But what is really called for is empathy.
So we should all mask up for safety, but also for the health and comfort of those around us.