Gee, with Covid-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and flu cases on the rise, what would be an easy way to protect yourself and other people? How about that thing that rhymes with simply asking, which means wearing a face mask? Well, the hashtags #MaskUp and #BringBackMasks are trending on Twitter with health professionals, scientists and others urging everyone to wear face masks.
Why is there a need to once again urge people to wear face masks? After all, haven’t we been through this before in 2020 and again in 2021? Don’t people already know the benefits of face masks? By mid-2020, it became clear that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) could also be spread through small respiratory droplets. These are droplets that can hang in the air like they just don’t care, and travel much farther than six feet or longer than Harry Styles (who is six feet tall). This has led many places to recommend and even require people to wear face masks while indoors in public places to reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
Yes, face masks have become an essential layer of the so-called “Swiss cheese” response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In this case, Swiss cheese didn’t mean throwing Swiss cheese in the air, which would be delicious to anyone with a big cheese net. Instead, it meant making sure you were simultaneously implementing at least three Covid-19 precautions at all times. Since every precaution against Covid-19 has its gaps, layering multiple precautions on top of each other will help cover the shortcomings or gaps of any intervention. And you never want to go out in public with your holes completely exposed, do you?
As you’ve probably heard, research shows that wearing a face mask has indeed helped reduce the spread of not only the Covid-19 coronavirus, but also other respiratory viruses over the past two winters. Yet, in 2022, after political leaders stopped advocating the use of face masks, after masks became politicized like almost any Covid-19 precaution, many people seem to have discarded face masks as if they were blinders .
So with the weather getting colder and drier – conditions that can facilitate the transmission of respiratory viruses – and virtually no non-pharmaceutical precautions against Covid-19, it’s no surprise that the US is facing the prospect of the so-called triple -demy in the coming months. Indeed, there are already spikes in Covid-19, influenza and RSV infections. As of November 22, there were an average of 42,220 reported cases of Covid-19 per day, a 7% increase over the past 14 days. The daily average number of new hospitalizations with Covid-19 rose by 7% to 27,923 and deaths related to Covid-19 by 3% to 319 over the past 14 days, according to data from New York Times. The CDC’s weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report states that “seasonal influenza activity is elevated nationwide” for the week ending November 12, 2022. Meanwhile, there have been reports of RSV cases prevalent at a number of different children’s hospitals, such as recently reported for Forbes.
All this fueled the spread of the hashtag #MaskUp. For example, actress Morgan Fairchild, who has starred in a number of hit TV shows such as Flamingo Road and Falcon Crestincluded the hashtag in a bunch of recent tweets, including the following tweet accompanied by a photo of her and her sister Kathryn Hart, also an actress and founder of Hartt & Soul Acting Studio, both wearing face masks:
And Theo Moudakis, editorial cartoonist for Toronto Starattached the hashtag to one of his cartoons:
Meanwhile, Dr. Lucky Tran, a March for Science organizer and science communicator at Columbia University, used the hashtag #BringBackMasks to circulate a petition to New York State to reinstate face mask requirements on public transportation:
Of course, two years of Covid-19 precautions may have worn many people down. But @dawnymock emphasized that the Covid-19 pandemic is like a marathon and you don’t get to mile 21 of a marathon and just say “Okay, I’m done now, where’s my burger and freedom”:
As they say, persistence is the key to achieving anything, except perhaps to achieving impatience. It’s not as if the pandemic dragged on longer than expected. Back in 2020, many experts predicted that the pandemic would last about two and a half to three years. Therefore, this may be the last winter where vigilance and extra precautions are needed before the pandemic is finally over.
Except in the grand scheme of things, is wearing a face mask really that big of a deal? To hell with all the ridiculous things fashion designers and trendsetters want us to wear, what’s wrong with wearing a face mask. It’s not like you’re being asked to wear a thong made out of a thumb. In fact, wearing a face mask can have other benefits, such as covering up other problems that may just be “wintering there,” as Camille Rondo Saint-Jean tweeted:
With respiratory viruses on the rise, people on social media are wondering why the Biden administration hasn’t done more to promote the use of face masks. We keep talking about pharmaceutical interventions, but what about these non-pharmaceutical interventions, meaning ones that don’t involve something made by a pharmaceutical company. For example, patient and health care advocate Robin Root pointed out that Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator described Covid as “purely airborne,” but the White House chief of staff home Ronald Klein didn’t even mention face masks in his “To fight COVID” tweet:
It could be said that Ruth provided a “disguised zinger” so to speak.
And Dr. Greg Gonsalves, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, referred to a CDC tweet recommending that people cough into their shirt sleeves to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but did not mention face masks:
Um, coughing and sneezing aren’t the only ways you can spread SARS-CoV-2 through the air. Unless you stick your elbow over your nose and mouth — which you shouldn’t, by the way — the CDC’s advice in the tweet won’t protect you from spreading the virus when you do things like breathe, talk, chant and sing Sia’s song ” Chandelier”.
In fact, many people have wondered why politicians seem to treat “mask” as a dirty word. For example, during a White House press conference on November 22, a reporter asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, “Masks and the word ‘masks’ have become a pejorative in some parts of this nation. Can you talk about the importance of wearing masks as you worry about the holidays and people coming together?’
The science is clear. Face masks, especially well-constructed ones like N95 respirators, can serve as barrier protection for your nose and mouth. To question their effectiveness and demand more randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of face masks would be like demanding more RCTs of curtains to see if they can block out light or underwear to see if they can prevent your genitals from being seen. Think about this. Which would you rather have: someone infected and exhaling virus particles all around you, or having some sort of barrier to at least reduce the number of virus particles thrown into the air? Healthcare professionals such as surgeons and nurses have been wearing face masks for years to protect patients. N95 face masks have already undergone years of testing and are designed specifically to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases. Those who want more studies seem unwilling to face the facts.
Of course, wearing a face mask can be uncomfortable. Of course, it can cover your beautiful, beautiful nose and your most wonderful mouth. Of course, you don’t want to deprive the world of seeing such wonderful parts of your body. But no real public health expert is saying the need for face masks will last forever. Also, wearing a face mask is not just a personal decision. Your decision will in turn affect everyone around you and beyond. As they say, disguise what you can do for your country.