Keep your distance — and wear a mask

## Gibson
## Gibson

Americans have been divided on a number of important issues for decades — climate change, guns and immigration to name a few.

Lately though, a wide schism has occurred over a matter that seems trivial, but is actually highly consequential. The issue is face masks.

Studies have consistently shown face masks to be the most effective method of curtailing the COVID-19 epidemic, short of quarantine. One might thus expect mask use to be embraced as a welcome way to restore the economy while still keeping the epidemic under control.

Instead, masks have become a focal point for opposition to any mandates on individuals in the name of virus control. Among some groups, not wearing a mask has become a badge of honor, a symbol of individual rights taking precedence over societal safety.

The evidence for the effectiveness of masks is compelling.

In Springfield, Missouri, two hairstylists continued to cut hair for eight days after becoming ill. By the time COVID-19 was confirmed, they had worked on 140 customers.

However, the salon required stylists and customers to wear masks.

Health authorities tracked and tested all 140 customers. None of them reported becoming ill and none tested positive.

A study in China found 278 medical personnel wearing N95 masks remained virus-free. But 10 of 213 medical personnel going without became infected.

Are N95 masks, often seen as the gold standard, significantly more effective than surgical masks?

A review of multiple studies published in the medical journal Lancet found N95 masks had an edge, but surgical masks were still highly effective. A study of 41 medical personnel revealed none became infected, in spite of the fact 85% were wearing surgical rather than N95 masks.

Though theoretically less efficient, cloth masks have also proven very effective in practice.

A review of studies of cloth masks found them to strongly reduce transmission of the virus. Laser light analysis showed cloth masks stop airborne droplets produced while talking.

The Lancet review found that overall, the risk of contracting COVID-19 was only 15% as high for masked subjects as for unmasked counterparts. It showed subjects wearing masks faced only 15% the risk of counterparts going without.

It also found subjects practicing at least three feet of social distancing faced only 18% the risk of those engaging in closer contact.

Failure to use masks has been shown to cause outbreaks, even in rural areas. Here in Oregon, 236 of 365 Lighthouse Pentacostal Church parishioners tested positive in rural Union County following church services and events featuring little mask use or social distancing.

Much has been made of the possible transmission of the virus by contact with hard surfaces like doorknobs and tabletops. While such transmission is possible, the Centers for Disease Control says, “This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

In other words, cleaning surfaces is valuable. But the biggest bang for the buck comes from wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.

In a perverse twist, no one seems to be taking a stand against hard surfaces being sanitized, even though it doesn’t help that much. But many Americans are agitating against wearing masks and practicing social distancing, which help much more.

This response is consistent with a poll in April that showed Americans think hand washing is a more effective preventive measure than mask wearing 68% to 32%.

Part of the misunderstanding probably arose from the fact that multiple studies examine an array of risk factors dribbled in over time, creating confusion. As potential mitigating actions were announced, it became difficult to discern which mattered most.

Should we wipe down groceries? Can we get COVID from our mail? Do we have to Lysol the cat?

Some of the information that hit the headlines was almost comical, though vaguely alarming. For example, a lab detected coronavirus in the air from the flushing of toilets, and it made news around the world.

But how many studies were done to determine if the virus actually was transmitted from flushing? Zero.

Unfortunately, the headlines created worry that served to distract us from truly important measures.

We have been flooded with irrelevant information. In the process, the remarkable effectiveness of masks and distancing have been lost on many Americans.

Add to this the seeming intrusion into personal autonomy via government directives aiming to keep us using masks and physical separation, and it is understandable a large percentage of Americans decline or disdain to don face coverings — a mistake that is costing lives.

The press needs to focus on science becoming clearer every week — masking and distancing work.

For those who feel it’s time to open up the economy, this is the gospel they should preach.

The same goes for those whose greatest concern rests on the risk to lives. The song of masking and distancing should be on their lips.

Reviving the economy and saving lives are, after all, one message.

The greatest threat to economic recovery is hospitals crammed with dying patients. If that happens, the economy will tank again and the current recession will be prolonged well into the future.

Simply put, the best protection against an economic meltdown is a mask and a yardstick. Grim outcomes are preventable and without much cost to any of us.

Wearing a mask is annoying. I get it. But it’s not as annoying as seeing your job disappear or, worse, losing your life.

We’ve had to tolerate worse in our history than having to cover our faces. It’s time to do what’s right, do what works, do what it takes to save the lives of ourselves and our neighbors — putting on that mask.

Dr. J. Scott Gibson is a board-certified internist focusing on gastroenterology. He has practiced in McMinnville for more than 30 years.


Web Design and Web Development by Buildable