The pandemic that took over the world

COVID-19 has taken the entire world by storm. The year 2020, which was filled with promise and hope for many as we entered a new decade, has turned to be something out of a horror movie. COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, is an illness caused by a virus that is contagious between people. The symptoms of this illness range from mild to severe, including fever or chills, coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, loss of taste or smell, and more. This is a serious illness that can lead to death, and cases have been increasing all around the world. Although COVID-19 began in one country, it has now spread all over. According to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine (at the time of writing), COVID-19 has reached 12.4 million confirmed cases, with 558 thousand deaths worldwide. In the United States alone, there have been 3.2 million confirmed cases, with 136 thousand deaths. Essentially – COVID-19 is public enemy number one, and cases continue to increase in the United States. 

To combat this pandemic, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released guidelines on how to protect ourselves and others from the coronavirus. In summary, the CDC recommends to know how the disease spreads, wash your hands, avoid touching your face, avoid close contact, clean and disinfect surfaces, and to cover your mouth and nose with a face cover. The focus of this article is on the latter: face masks and coverings. Recently, there have been anti-mask protests in various states in America, including one in Arizona that sparked outrage. An Arizona city councilman, Guy Phillips, was filmed at an anti-mask protest speaking into a microphone while addressing the protesters and announced: “I can’t breathe.” These are the very words that George Floyd said as the former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on his neck and murdered him. After Guy Phillips declared this statement, he removed his mask, and anti-maskers cheered. Despite false claims that wearing a face mask causes asphyxiation and impedes on the rights of freedom, everyone should wear a face covering to protect each other from COVID-19 and lower the number of new cases. 

Why should you wear a mask?

The short answer is to protect both yourself and others. Let’s unwrap this. First, both the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) are recommending that the public wear cloth masks as one precaution. Health experts have stated that the evidence makes it clear that masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. To summarize the evidence, we must first talk about the transmission characteristics of COVID-19. The main form of transmission is likely though small droplets released when speaking, coughing, or sneezing, and according to J. P. Duguid, the most common droplet size is between 5 to 10 µm. This means that even without coughing or showing symptoms, the disease could be transmitted by just speaking to someone else. With this being said, masks have various filtering capability depending on the materials and design. Cloth (and other home items) masks specifically are generally able to filter between 49% to 86% for 0.02 µm particles, whereas surgical masks filter 89% of those particles. One experiment visualized speech-generated oral fluid droplets with laser light scattering, and found that hundreds of droplets are generated when speaking a simple phrase. However, when the mouth was covered with a damp washcloth, almost all the droplets were blocked. 

Rather than focusing on the specific evidence, let’s focus on the real-world statistics. A study by Health Affairs found that the daily growth rate of COVID-19 slowed down in 15 states after they mandated the use of face masks. In New York, the number of cases has been decreasing as the curve flattens, due to governor Cuomo strictly enforcing wearing a mask. Additionally, a separate study examined 198 countries and discovered that those with government policies favoring wearing a mask had lower death rates compared to those that didn’t. All of the evidence previously mentioned supports the claim that we should all wear a mask. A simple face covering leads to a decrease in new cases, lower deaths, and protection of yourself. Wear a mask.  

More reasons you should wear a mask

If none of the previously mentioned evidence has convinced you to wear a mask, do it for those who are unable to protect themselves. Wearing a mask or face covering not only protects yourself, but those around you. A case example of two hair stylists, who were unknowingly positive for COVID-19 at the time, illustrates the power of masks. They were in close contact with 140 clients while styling hair, and found that none of the clients tested positive as they all wore masks. Had those hair stylists not worn a mask, those 140 clients would have been exposed to COVID-19, and would likely have tested positive for the disease. By using a face covering, the hair stylists were able to protect others. One of those clients could have been a person at high risk, and would likely have had severe symptoms. Those who are high risk consist of people of any age with underlying medical conditions, such as chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obesity, serious heart conditions, Type 2 diabetes mellitus, and many more. To protect the many people who are at high risk, wear a mask. Even if you don’t experience any symptoms, one could be asymptomatic and still transmit the disease. 

Furthermore, if everyone wore a mask and the number of COVID-19 cases decreased, many great things would happen. First, thousands of lives would be saved. Second, the public, especially those who are at high risk, could begin to return to normal life and not be so terrified of contracting the disease. Third, restaurants and other businesses would begin to open, resulting in more people returning to work and earning an income again. This would help the economy slowly recover, and more. So many extraordinary things could come as a result of COVID-19 cases decreasing – and we can do so by wearing a mask. 

Anti-mask protests

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, masks went flying off the shelves as they became a coveted item for many. Because the CDC and WHO recommend wearing a face covering, many states mandated wearing a mask in public, and many stores required a mask to be worn in their store. While the masses were scrambling to find masks to fight off the virus, some moved to the complete opposite side of the spectrum – anti-masks. Some people have been protesting wearing masks, and believe that face coverings cause asphyxiation, hypercapnia, and constrict their ability to breathe. Some have posted graphics claiming that the percentage of CO2 being inhaled by continuous use of masks causes various symptoms. Asphyxiation is the “deprivation of oxygen that can result in unconsciousness and often death” or suffocation. Hypercapnia is the “presence of excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the blood”, which could result in dizziness, shortness of breath, seizures, loss of consciousness, and others. These claims are mostly false. It is true that breathing in excessive amounts of CO2 for a long period of time can be unhealthy, but it is highly unlikely that the public would suffer from these conditions by wearing a mask. A representative from the CDC stated that the CO2 will slowly build in the mask over time, but that the level of CO2 is mostly tolerable to people exposed. Essentially, you might get a headache, but would likely not suffer the conditions previously mentioned. In conclusion, no, you will most likely not get asphyxiation or hypercapnia from wearing a mask. You will, however, protect yourself and others, if you wear a mask.

Additionally, some believe that being mandated to wear a mask impedes on their constitutional rights and restricts their freedom. However, the benefits are much larger than the disadvantages. As previously refuted, wearing a mask will most likely not cause asphyxiation, hypercapnia, or anything more than a headache. The only real disadvantage of wearing a mask is that you may get a headache, it is slightly uncomfortable to wear, and you have to remember to put it on in the morning. But that’s just it – minor inconveniences, such as one more thing you have to wear in the morning. In the United States, there are a variety of laws that require citizens to wear clothes. Some offences include “indecent exposure”, “public lewdness”, “public indecency”, etc. Just like you wear clothes in public, you should wear a mask. However, while clothes don’t necessarily protect other people around you, wearing a mask does. Masks should be worn in public, as the safety of everyone is more important than the inconvenience of wearing a mask. 

Wear a mask. 

As evident through the evidence presented, masks protect you and those around you. With that being said, everyone should wear a mask to lower the number of COVID-19 cases and keep everyone safe. A little bit of discomfort is worth the safety of human lives. If you don’t have a mask, a simple cloth face covering with household items will work as well. Cover your nose and mouth, and protect yourself and others. Please, wear a mask.