My mask protects you, your mask protects meJanuary 14, 2021
To the editor:
A recent letter prompted me to review my opinion on masks. I was only able to identify two of the studies quoted.
The CDC's 2020 meta-analysis that "found no significant effect...on transmission" also mentions "limited sample size" and "suboptimal adherence" to wearing masks.
However, the results state, "In theory, transmission should be reduced the most if both infected members and other contacts wear masks, but compliance in uninfected close contacts could be a problem." (We are seeing that, now)
Next, the NIH's 2020 meta-analysis quote was from its abstract. A more lengthy conclusion from the report reads, "[Surgical masks] usage cannot be a standalone strategy to protect against infection, but ought to be used together with other physical intervention methods...."
Furthermore, the conclusions were made about uninfected individuals. Nothing was concluded about infected persons wearing masks reducing spread.
With a novel virus that may not reveal symptoms for weeks, infected persons could be contagious long before showing any symptoms. Neither report concludes masks are useless, but entertains the idea that my mask protects you and your mask protects me.
It is important to remember that these meta-analyses are reviews of earlier studies that likely had different focuses being re-analyzed to see if broader conclusions can be drawn. Newer more specific studies may offer more conclusive data.
One such new study using hamsters separated by surgical cloth concludes, "This is the first in vivo experimental evidence to support the possible benefit of surgical masks in prevention of COVID-19 transmission, especially when masks were worn by infected individuals."
While I am the kind of person that relies on scientific conclusions, I also like to look outside the lab.
Japan has 38% of the U.S. population spread across some islands giving them a population density much greater than ours. Yet, even as they are experiencing a spike, their total deaths are a fraction of our current weekly count. Wide adoption of masks is likely a contributing factor.
Finally, for a less-scientific but fun experiment, I recommend the fire-hazard video by Uncle Rob called "Covid-19 vs Surgical Mask. Do Masks Work or Not?"
— Joe Huddleston
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