Pandemic 2020 #6 – Understanding Why Masks and Social Distancing Works

First, let’s go over where we are today with COVID-19 stats. The US is currently experiencing 50,000+ cases per day. This exceeds the old daily high by quite a bit:

The daily deaths has been going down since the peak in mid-April, but this looks like it might be starting to increase again. I was hoping we had learned enough about how to treat COVID-19, even if only symptomatically, where the deaths would stay low. We’ll have to see where this goes, but I don’t have a good feeling about it.

Based on the past to weeks, I project we’ll reach 100,000 cases per day in about two weeks. If the trend continues – which is unlikely – we could see 1 million cases per day by early September. 

There’s a lot of “controversy” on wearing masks*. I put that in quotes, because there should be very little resistance to wearing a face covering. I hate to sound like one of those climate change goons, but the science on whether masks work or not has already been done on this issue. The results are very clear, wearing a mask or face covering can dramatically reduce the amount of disease transmission.

There are two main types of masks, the first type are those that protect you against germs, including viruses. These would be the N95 and N100 masks, and filter out particles, including viruses, from the air you breathe. 

Personally, I wear an N95 or better when I go out into public, which included work (right now, as Arizona is experiencing a high number of cases, my office has closed and we’re all working from home). If you wear one of these masks, officially called a respirator, you need to be careful when you take it off, as the outside filter material may be contaminated. Ideally, they are sterilized between uses, though careful doffing and donning can allow you to reuse the mask several times before having to do this.

The other type are those that protect others from you. These are either the surgical masks or the cloth face coverings. These do nothing to protect you from infection, as they either don’t filter out germs very well, or don’t have a good enough seal to force all the air you breathe to be filtered. They do stop most of your germs from being projected into the surrounding environment.

Cloth face coverings and surgical masks don’t protect you, they protect everyone else from you. This is why it’s important that everyone wear a mask when they’re in public. These types of masks are designed to limit how much mouth and nose droplets you inject into the air. Coughing, sneezing, and even talking all inject microscopic particles into the air and these particles can contain bacteria and viruses. If you’re a carrier of SARS-COV2 – whether symptomatic or asymptomatic – then you become a spreader of the COVID-19 disease. 

Studies have shown both the wearing masks and maintaining a distance of six feet or more can reduce the spread of COVID-19. When people did both – wore a mask and kept six feet or more apart, the risk of contagion dropped even further. This is the best way to control the pandemic while still maintaining an open economy. 

And here’s where we get into problems. Too many people aren’t wearing any mask or face covering and they’re not maintaining social distancing. Which is why we’re seeing another rapid increase in COVID-19 cases. 

Most likely, the reason many people don’t think this is an issue is because it really hasn’t “hit close to home” for most people. At the time of this writing, were are only approximately 2.7 million cases in the US. Even if we assume there are 10 times that number of infected people (27,000,000), it’s still only about 8.2% of the total population. We’re six months into this pandemic, and there are less than 10% of the population that has it. We’ve only tested 32,827,359, or about 10%, of Americans. Once this gets closer to home for most people, say around 40%, it will be hard to ignore the “imaginary hoax” virus.

SARS-CoV-2 is going to be with us for a long time. We still don’t even know if we’ll have immunity after being infected; we might need a booster vaccine every year. And speaking of vaccines, even if we’re able to create a vaccine that will work against this virus, the amount of effort it will require to produce, transport, and administer the vaccine to hundreds of millions, if not a couple of billion people is not something that will happen in a few months.

The long and the short of this is we will be dealing with this virus for a long time. Even if everyone were to wear an mask and practice social distancing while in public, we would still have flare ups from time to time. We would be able to keep most if the economy thriving, though some aspects would need to find a new way of doing things. The pandemic puts a strain on the infrastructure we rely on for modern living, and we’ve already seen it strained beyond what it can handle in many areas.

Don’t be caught unprepared by thinking this pandemic is almost over. When the store shelves are restocked, whether with food, ammunition, or disinfecting supplies, be sure to continue improving your preparedness posture. With everything going on right now, it wouldn’t take much to tip into unknown territory. If riots expand and spill over into suburban neighborhoods, if we have a pandemic flu spread out from China this fall, if a major earthquake takes out part of the power grid… or any number of unforeseen events… can tip this into ‘interesting’ territory.

Get Prepared, Be Prepared.

* In this article, the terms ‘mask’ and ‘face covering’ are interchangeable.

References:

  • “Widespread facemask use could shrink the ‘R’ number and prevent a second COVID-19 wave” — ScienceDaily, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/06/200609190727.htm
  • “Technical Document for Public Use of Medical Masks and Cloth Masks”, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5e8126f89327941b9453eeef/t/5ea3b5859bc8f31a11f3deb5/1587787141808/2020-04-24_N95DECON_Face_Mask_Technical_Report_v1_final.pdf
  • “Tired Of Wearing A Face Mask In Public? New Research Underscores Why You Still Need To”, https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2020/05/14/here-is-more-evidence-for-face-mask-use-with-covid-19-coronavirus/#14e2db8d1060
  • “Technical Report for Time-Based N95 Reuse Risk Management”, https://www.n95decon.org/time
  • “Key Differences Between Respirators and Masks”, https://multimedia.3m.com/mws/media/956213O/differences-between-respirators-and-masks.pdf 
  • Donning and Doffing – N95DECON, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5e8126f89327941b9453eeef/t/5efad937f16472283a6c92c5/1593497920451/200621_N95DECON_Donning_Doffing_Decon_Dispose_v1-1_final.pdf
  • Surgical Masks Guidance for the Public – N95DECON, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5e8126f89327941b9453eeef/t/5ed852784c619356588761c5/1591235194295/200602_N95DECON_UsingASurgicalMask_Factsheet.pdf
  • https://www.n95decon.org

 

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