Muddled on Masks

A couple of weeks ago on the Twitter machine, in response to this question from @doc_becca:

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I agreed:

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The reality is that mask wearing isn’t operating in a surgical theater or working in a BL3 lab, a point Asaf Bitton made recently (boldface mine):

Exactly. We were, I think, way too focussed on the protective properties of the particular material in the mask as constructed, and whether it can protect you when you enter a zone of known infection. So we were thinking about masks, really, in too much of a biomedical context. Is this mask safe enough for a health-care worker or a relative to step into a zone with someone who has an infection?

Now, that’s an important use case. But now that we’ve inverted our thinking, or at least expanded it, to think more from a public-health or community perspective, we’ve actually learned to think of masks from the inside out. And this is why, even a hundred years ago, they were so popular and actually sternly advised by public-health authorities during the great influenza outbreak. And so if everyone’s wearing a mask, even if each individual mask has holes, you have that protection because we’re containing it. So that’s been a major extension of our imagination or understanding of this dynamic.

Yes, you should try to avoid touching your mask, especially the part you breath through (i.e., not the loops). But we need to realize that strict mask protocol is simply not feasible outside of a limited set of circumstances. People are going to need to remove their masks–and I would rather have them carefully remove the mask every so often when people aren’t around, than wear them improperly (e.g., not covering the nose, which is more comfortable, and which also defeats the whole purpose). Because I see people working physical jobs really struggling with how to stay comfortable while doing this. If we make it too difficult to wear masks, then a lot of people just won’t wear them, especially in the hot summer months*.

*This is one reason why I think infections might increase during the summer–people will wear masks less often.

Related: This is a very good article on masks, and is relevant to this post.

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1 Response to Muddled on Masks

  1. Fiona Gierzynski says:

    Thanks so much for the link to the article discussing masks in a clinical manner. I’m not a medical person, but I want to protect my family. A girlfriend’s son is doing his residency out in CA, so she’s been making masks for months, to send to him. She told me to use 3 layers of fabric, 2 different kinds, and to make ties for behind the head, since they’re more comfortable than the ear-elastic. I’ve made them in many wild colors and patterns, and even made one for my 3-year-old grandson. I was wondering if they do any good. After reading this, I’m going to continue to do as I have been doing for the past 3 months, and wear a mask any time I’m in public.
    Also, thanks for all of your posts. I rarely comment, and I don’t remember how I found your blog–but I’m so grateful for your well-reasoned analysis of so many things that I want to know about, but don’t have the medical training that you do, to be able to know where to look. I look to you.

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