By Kennedy Shelley
One of the more interesting discussions during the whole COVID-19 pandemic has been “should the general public be wearing masks like they do in Asia?”
Initially, there was a huge shortage of even basic masks at hospitals for workers and there were fears that workers were being exposed to massive “virus loads.”
Why did the World Health Organization and other specialists not recommend cloth or regular surgical masks for the general population?
Most specialists in the field did not believe that typical surgical masks would stop the virus and hospitals began a scramble for the higher end N95 respirators which have a tighter fit and provide antiviral protection.
There is no seal around a typical mask, and the virus can be pulled in from the sides, so because they provided scant protection, the devices were dismissed by most public health services.
And it is speculated that if people were told to wear masks, they would not see the need for the stay at home orders if they thought the masks protected them.
The US Center for Disease Control asked people not to use surgical masks and N95’s because they were critical items for those in health care.
The journal Nature published a study that showed while it was doubtful that the mask would protect the wearer, there was some hope that masks could protect those who had the virus but not showing major symptoms might not shed viruses on others.
In other words, by keeping the virus to yourself, it might slow the spread if people sneeze in the mask as opposed to their elbows.
Then to confuse matters, the World Health Organization started recommending the wearing of masks, but then backed down from the recommendation two days later.
But as soon as the recommendation was announced some stores and municipalities started mandating masks for being out in public.
But what was not clear in the confusion was: Do non-N95 masks provide any protection from the virus?
We may have a definitive answer which was just published in The Annals of Internal Medicine and a team headed by Dr. Bae from South Korea.
After doing lab tests, his team found no protection from the virus using cotton and standard surgical masks.
They also found that while using the masks helps keep the mist of a sneeze down, akin to using a Kleenex or sneezing into your elbow, the surgical and cotton masks do allow the virus to pass through.
In other words, it’s not an effective barrier to stop the virus.
It can’t stop the spread of the virus in either direction, making them utterly worthless to stop the spread.
It might make the problem worse, because people who are COVID-19 positive who cough in the mask may concentrate the virus on the front of the mask.
Since people tend to pull their mask down grabbing the front that means they have just put the concentrated virus on their fingertips.
Then people touch public pin pads and food at the supermarket and other places, spreading the concentrated virus as they go thinking they are stopping the spread.
Unfortunately, this means that municipalities and stores which impose mandatory mask rules are actually making the problem worse.