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Why Wear a Mask?

Why do some people refuse to wear masks?

A few people actually cannot wear a mask, for various reasons. I read a post from a person who said they could not wear a mask, and they would get nasty looks and shaming the few times that they dared to venture out.

If you cannot wear a mask, I would suggest trying a face shield. There are face shields that attach to glasses, or to a hat, and other variations. One of those should work since they don’t even touch your face. And there is evidence that face shields might be more effective than masks.

I see other comments from people who basically say “there aren’t very many cases where I live, so I don’t need to wear a mask”. Unfortunately, these people are making a huge mistake. They are thinking linearly, while contagious diseases have exponential growth. The absolute number of cases doesn’t really matter. What matters is the growth R0 (R-naught), how many people (on average) get infected from an infected person. If R0 is greater than one, the number of cases will increase exponentially, if less than one then the disease will eventually die out.

A closely related number is the doubling time, which is how long does it take for the number of infected people to double. At one point in a province of China, the doubling time of COVID-19 was 1.4 days. And New York state had a doubling time of around 2 days for over a week.

Unfortunately, humans are notoriously bad at understanding exponential growth. There is a famous story about the person who invented chess for their king. The king loves the game so much that he asks the inventor what they want as a gift. The inventor replies that the king should put one grain of wheat on the first square of the chessboard, then two grains on the second square, and continue doubling until the last square. The king finds this a modest request so he agrees. However, the king doesn’t understand exponential growth, because the wheat required is 2,000 times the entire world production of wheat. Just starting with a single tiny grain.

Back to COVID-19, even if you have a small number of cases or deaths, if you do not reduce R0 (the number of people you infect) below 1, eventually everyone will get the disease. Wearing a mask (or a face shield) absolutely reduces the number of people you infect. Social distancing does too. Self quarantine does even better. So the choice is yours. Wear a mask now or endure another shutdown later. Or worse.

The result of the US not taking simple precautions is obvious. The US has 4% of the world population, but over a quarter (25%) of all the deaths and over a quarter of the cases in the world. We have more active cases than the next half a dozen countries put together (Brazil, Russia, India, UK, Spain, and Peru). We spend more on health care than any other country, but we can’t seem to stop one disease, even though other countries (including Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Italy, New Zealand, South Korea, Morocco, Thailand, Rwanda, Uruguay, and others) are doing it. We are currently failing.

And things are getting worse. On July 1, new reported cases of COVID-19 was 52,788, the largest single day total ever. Dr. Anthony Fauci already testified to Congress that we are heading toward 100,000 new cases a day if we don’t do something to stop it.

The seven day averages (which are better indicators than the daily numbers) are just as bad. The seven-day average of new confirmed cases is the highest it has ever been, topping 50,000 cases for the first time. And a whopping 45 states have seven-day averages of new infections higher than the previous week. At this rate, we will almost certainly have to close down the country again.

So what did Donald Trump do? He went on Fox News and said:

I think we’re gonna be very good with the coronavirus. I think that at some point that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.

Notice that he is now couching his words with “I think”, “I hope”, and “sort of”. Well, I think he knows he is lying. I hope he cares that people will die because of his words. But I sort of doubt it.