The Science On Masks Is Inconclusive — But Here’s Why You Should Still Wear One When You Leave Your House

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic crisis, Americans were advised against wearing masks as a means to protect themselves from the disease.

The reasons behind this made some sense — first and foremost, these devices, it was feared, would soon be in short supply, making matters more difficult for healthcare workers (and sure enough, that turned out to be true).


But there was more scientific backing (or so we thought) supporting this advisory claim, arguments that masks should only be worn if the person wearing them already had symptoms, and that those who wore them without symptoms were doing little to no good in protecting themselves.

Last week, however, things changed: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention switched its recommendations, telling Americans to wear coverings, including homemade masks or even bandanas, when they went out in public.

President Donald Trump himself promoted the new guidelines, too, although he said they were completely voluntary.

“You can do it. You don’t have to do it,” he said. “I am choosing not to do it. It may be good. It is only a recommendation, voluntary.”

It’s been well-documented and is generally agreed upon, with almost no dissenting opinion, that healthcare workers protect their own health by wearing masks and other protective facial wear. What’s less known is whether a mass movement of doing so — say, an entire nation agreeing upon a new edict requiring mask usage — would do any good or not. Scientific studies on the efficacy of mask-wearing have shown no conclusive evidence that they cut the spread of infection.

But mathematic modeling seems to suggest masks can play a part in stopping the spread of a disease like coronavirus. According to one simulation, when 50 percent of the general population wore a mask, it cut infection rates in half. When 80 percent wore a mask, the spread of the disease was almost down to zero.

So studies are inconclusive, and modeling projections say masks can help. What about in the real world? Well, things are not clear there, either, but there seem to be signs, yet again, that masks do some good for those that wear them. Take a look at this excerpt from CNN’s recent reporting on the issue:

Taiwan, South Korea and mainland China, all places with widespread mask use, have seen greater success in preventing major outbreaks or reining them in once they begin than in Europe and North America where masks are either not used or hard to come by.

Speaking to CNN, Ivan Hung, an infectious diseases specialist at the Hong Kong University School of Medicine, said that “if you look at the data in Hong Kong, wearing a mask is probably the most important thing in terms of infection control.”

There may be other reasons, too, as to why Hong Kong and other areas where heavy mask-wearing is going on (Japan, Singapore, etc.) are seeing positive signs of coronavirus rates staying stagnant or decreasing — strict community mores or edicts from governments on quarantine rules may play a role, or lack of testing in a region, may play a role in why numbers are better there proportionally, than in places where mask-wearing was discouraged.

But here’s the overall bottom line: in places where there is heavy mask-wearing, things seem to be going in the right direction, overall. Emulating the standards that these areas have put in place makes sense. And with the CDC changing course on its recommendation, it makes sense for you to not only wear a mask in public, but to encourage others to do so as well.

Help keep disposable masks in hospitals, and make your own mask at home:

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