Wearing a cloth or paper mask in the face of the worsening COVID-19 pandemic is an act of compassion toward those who face the worst consequences of the disease.
Messaging about masks was admittedly confusing in March. Organizations like the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not recommend them due to fears that health care workers would face shortages.
Back then, the fact that COVID-19 could be spread by people who have the disease and have no symptoms (or are about to develop symptoms) was not fully realized.
Now that we know more about modes of transmission, health organizations are routinely recommending masks when in a social environment, encountering other people.
Particles of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, can be found in a COVID patient’s nasal and respiratory passages.
These leave the patient’s body through small droplets that can be expressed into the air in front of the patient by coughing, sneezing or even talking, with possible transmission to others within a six-foot distance.
Masks reduce transmission of those droplets as they smack into the barrier. The advantage is fewer droplets on the faces of those in front of the patient and fewer droplets aerosolizing viral particles into the air.
Do masks work?
A study in the medical journal Health Affairs showed that rates of growth of COVID-19 slowed down in 15 states after mask mandates were put in place. Another study involved testing the 25 people sitting nearest to a person with COVID-19 traveling on an airplane from China to Toronto, all of them wearing masks.
None of the 25 were infected.
Most recently, two hair stylists infected with COVID-19 in Missouri did not spread the disease to all 140 customers they had encountered since contracting it.
All involved were wearing masks.
Masks are not 100% effective, but in combination with keeping six feet of distance from others, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and washing hands, the cumulative effect can profoundly lower risks of transmission.
Right now, some politicians are trying to convince us that this minor inconvenience is an affront to our individual liberties instead of looking at the broader picture of a society made healthier by wearing masks.
Believe doctors, believe scientists, and believe public health officials when they tell you that masks will save lives and reduce the startling number of casualties we see each day.
Kurt Fleagle is an internal medicine physician practicing in Kettering. He is a graduate of Wright State University School of Medicine.