Science Magazine published a fascinating interview with the director of the Chinese CDC. When asked about global mistakes in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, he says:
The big mistake in the U.S. and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren’t wearing masks. This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role—you’ve got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth. Many people have asymptomatic or presymptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.Science Magazine. March 27, 2020.
There are two important takeaways from that passage:
- “People aren’t wearing masks.”
- “People have asymptomatic or presymptomatic infections.”
Masks are common in China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and neighboring Asian countries. Everyone either owns one or knows where to get one. I’m curious what Asia’s mortality and recovery rates from COVID-19 infections would have looked like if nobody wore masks.
It’s common for people who are ill and want to protect the people around them to wear masks. Others wear masks during cold and flu season to protect themselves.
In Japan, people wear masks for non-medical reasons ranging from wanting to hide a swollen lip or a red nose during allergy season, to keeping warm during the winter, says Mitsutoshi Horii, a sociology professor at Japan’s Shumei University…Time Magazine. March 12, 2020
In the United States and most (if not all) of the western world, medical masks are sold out. I’m not referring to online price gougers. You can buy hockey masks, snorkel masks, and skiing face masks in multiple online marketplaces. Unfortunately, the time approaches when they, too, might be sold out.
It is disappointing that U.S. federal guidelines recommend that if personal protection equipment is not available to properly cover the nose and mouth, then bandanas or scarves should be used. I wish I was making this up. Scroll to the bottom of this CDC page and see for yourself.
The medical mask shortage is so important that fashion manufacturers such as Gap, Eddie Bauer, Prada, and Vera Bradley, and sportswear firms such as Nike and Bauer are shifting assembly line procedures to ramp up production of masks and other protective equipment.
By the way, China has a stockpile of masks and none of them are coming to the United States.
Hundreds of factories in China are churning out millions of masks being used to suppress the virus across Asia and Europe, but importers can’t get them to the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 in the United States because they haven’t been certified by the Food and Drug Administration. Confusing government regulations preferring American products, old-school billing practices, and hospital administrators scared of being sued are keeping masks out of the hands of nurses and first responders during the coronavirus pandemic.Vice. March 27, 2020.
In addition, many foreign firms which sell products online are not shipping to the United States. Try ordering a face mask from amazon.co.uk. I tried earlier today. The products were in stock at normal prices but I couldn’t get them.
If you recall the words from the director of the Chinese CDC, take a look at what the European CDC says:
Are face masks effective in protecting against COVID-19?
If you are infected, the use of surgical face masks may reduce the risk of you infecting other people, but there is no evidence that face masks will effectively prevent you from being infected with the virus. In fact, it is possible that the use of face masks may even increase the risk of infection due to a false sense of security and increased contact between hands, mouth and eyes.European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Q&A webpage
Say what? If you wear a face mask then you will purposefully forget it’s there and touch your face?
The U.S. Surgeon General has similar advice:
If you have coronavirus or are caring for someone with COVID-19, wear a mask around others, so YOU don’t spread disease to THEM.The U.S. Surgeon General on Twitter. March 28, 2020
If we follow the advice of U.S. and European CDC leadership and only give masks (not that they’re available) to people who are infected (that is, tested positive) or to people caring for those infected, then what about everyone else?
For all we know, we could be asymptomatic (meaning, a silent carrier of the virus but never showing symptoms) or presymptomatic (meaning, before symptoms develop).
When you consider the entire population of a small Italian town was tested for the virus and the majority were considered asymptomatic, what does that say for the rest of the world?
If the Chinese CDC is telling the truth, then U.S. and European CDC leaders are lying to us. We should have been wearing masks from the moment the first positive case landed in the United States (or in Europe, take your pick).
We should cover our faces today, regardless of what western leaders say.
I don’t think it’s too late to start.
I hope not.
What do you think? Add a comment below or share my thoughts. Let’s have a frank discussion about the importance of wearing masks whether or not we have symptoms.