The Debate Over Wearing Masks

Passengers have engaged vociferously in numerous debates over the years — including those of who gets to control the window shade, who gets the space in overhead storage bins, armrests, emotional support animals, people with allergies, crying babies, obese passengers, swapping seats, and reclining seats in the economy class cabin aboard an airplane…

The Debate Over Wearing Masks

…and the latest debate pertaining to masks — or cloth coverings for the face — has quickly permeated throughout the United States well beyond the interiors of airplanes, which contain only so much room. Many airlines now require passengers to wear masks while aboard airplanes because of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic; and passengers who do not comply with that requirement face penalties — including being denied permission to board the airplane at all.

In recent days, many companies and private establishments have also instituted the requirement to wear masks within their facilities in order to mitigate the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic. The leaders of governments — such as the city of Atlanta — have issued executive orders requiring the use of masks or cloth coverings for the face within city limits, which includes the international airport.

Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially advised against wearing face masks in response to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, as they were deemed not necessary in order to stay healthy…

Mask

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

…but then on Friday, April 3, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory with the recommendation of covering your face with a simple cloth face covering — such as a scarf as one of many examples — in order to slow the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the United States. That understandably contributed to confusion, which may be one of many factors in the debate. At one point, some people wanted masks so much that they resorted to stealing them.

“In an editorial published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), CDC reviewed the latest science and affirms that cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used universally within communities”, according to this press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. “There is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.”

One of the three authors of the aforementioned editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association is Robert R. Redfield, who is the current director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Covering mouths and noses with filtering materials serves 2 purposes: personal protection against inhalation of harmful pathogens and particulates, and source control to prevent exposing others to infectious microbes that may be expelled during respiration”, according to the editorial. “When asked to wear face coverings, many people think in terms of personal protection. But face coverings are also widely and routinely used as source control. For instance, if given the choice between having surgery performed by a team not wearing some covering over their mouths and noses vs a team that does, almost all patients would reject the former. This option seems absurd because it is known that use of face coverings under these circumstances reduces the risk of surgical site infection caused by microbes generated during the surgical team’s conversations or breathing. Face coverings do the same in blocking transmission of SARS-CoV-2.”

Mask

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has done enough with regard to guidance and response pertaining to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic is questionable. “One of the many contributions the CDC provides our country is sound public health guidance that states and communities can adapt to their local context — expertise even more essential during a pandemic, when uncertainty is the norm”, according to this article for The Washington Post, which was co-written by Tom Frieden, Jeffrey Koplan, David Satcher, and Richard Besser — all four of whom are former directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The four of us led the CDC over a period of more than 15 years, spanning Republican and Democratic administrations alike. We cannot recall over our collective tenure a single time when political pressure led to a change in the interpretation of scientific evidence.“

The four co-authors of the aforementioned article also claim that “The CDC is home to thousands of experts who for decades have fought deadly pathogens such as HIV, Zika and Ebola. Despite the inevitable challenges of evolving science and the public’s expectation of certainty, these are the people best positioned to help our country emerge from this crisis as safely as possible. Unfortunately, their sound science is being challenged with partisan potshots, sowing confusion and mistrust at a time when the American people need leadership, expertise and clarity. These efforts have even fueled a backlash against public health officials across the country: Public servants have been harassed, threatened and forced to resign when we need them most. This is unconscionable and dangerous.”

Advantages of Wearing Masks

The advantages of wearing masks and cloth coverings for the face are as follows:

  • When worn properly, wearing a mask may reduce the spread of airborne viruses — such as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus — from an infected person or a carrier to other people
  • Protects your identity, as you are more disguised while wearing a mask or covering over your face
  • Mitigates unwanted or toxic odors — such as flatulence aboard an airplane
  • Increases safety in the preparation and serving of food at restaurants when all members of the staff wear masks or coverings for their faces
  • Can be creative in terms of style and fashion
  • Lessens the possibility of being scolded by someone if you were caught without wearing one

Disadvantages of Wearing Masks

The disadvantages of wearing masks and cloth coverings for the face are as follows:

  • Not as comfortable as not wearing a mask or covering over your face — especially for longer periods of time
  • When worn improperly, wearing a mask does not effectively reduce the spread of airborne viruses — such as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus — to other people
  • Can impede upon the health of a person, depending on his or her medical condition and history
  • Considered by some people to be an infraction of their rights and freedom when required to wear a mask or face covering
  • Care is required, as they must be washed and handled — or disposed — properly
  • Contributes to pollution and is a potentially biological hazard when discarded on the ground
  • Additional cost — unless you acquire your mask or face covering free of charge
  • Can fog up the glasses of a person who is visually impaired and therefore reduce sight
  • Can be an impediment in terms of style and fashion

Why People Who Do Not Wear Masks Should Not Be Scolded

Just because a person is not wearing a mask or cloth covering on the face does not automatically mean that he or she is selfish and does not care about anyone else. Other factors could play a role.

Some people do have preexisting medical conditions which preclude them from wearing a mask or cloth covering on the face — such as respiratory issues which could be exacerbated by the reduced amount of air caused by the material of the mask or cloth covering blocking the nose and mouth.

“I get light headed by the end of the day after wearing my mask all day,” one weary employee of a restaurant — who wished to remain anonymous — said as I was waiting to pick up my food recently. “I lose a pound of sweat per day from a full shift. I take my mask off at the end of a long day because I’m just done with it. I don’t wear it when I go shopping after work.”

The previous examples are only two of numerous factors as to the reason why a person is not wearing a mask out in public.

Summary

The problem with the mask debate — which seems to eclipse the seriousness of other debates over the years — is that it has lurched far past a simple conversation pertaining to health. It has become political for many people. It has become a sort of virtue signaling for some people. It has become a symbol of division in our society in general…

…and it has become a topic of which is as difficult to change the position of the person on the other side of the debate as the topics of politics and religion.

My thinking has always been that of one who believes that if a person is too nervous about contracting the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, the best prevention is to simply be quarantined or isolated voluntarily. Scolding someone in public for not wearing a mask is likely cathartic for the initiator at best, as the target of the admonishment will likely not wear one after a confrontation. As an example, I never scold someone whom I have never met for not washing his or her hands, as their grooming habits and hygiene are none of my business — not that I have a right to chastise a total stranger to me in the first place — and I suspect that even now, not enough people are washing their hands properly, which I still believe is the single most effective way to help prevent the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

In past articles, I have outright blamed politicians of various governments for poor leadership and not placing their constituents first, sensationalist media for needlessly scaring the public just to increase readership and views, conflicting recommendations from what are supposed to be the most trusted sources in health in the world which contributed to confusion, and companies for using the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic as little more than a marketing opportunity.

By no means is this article all inclusive when discussing the topic of wearing masks or cloth coverings for the face — which is where you come in. Which position of the debate over wearing masks do you support and why — and what information is this article missing, in your opinion?

All photographs ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

10 thoughts on “The Debate Over Wearing Masks”

  1. JohnC says:

    Even my mom who has COPD and is on oxygen wears a mask. If you cannot wear a mask, then at least wear a face shield. Those that refuse, how many are actually for a medical condition? Less than 1%? But the sooner we all cooperate, the sooner we can get back to normal.

    As far as the CDC and WHO changing their minds on the masks, you would expect that. It is called novel for a reason, it means new. No one knew how the virus would act in the beginning. Now they have better clues, so wear the mask.

    I flew to Chicago, Nashville, Dallas and back to LAX a few weeks ago. In the terminal, 100% participation of passengers wearing masks at LAX, at Chicago, about 75%, Dallas was about 50% and Nashville seemed like they were in a different world and hardly anyone did.

  2. Mike Anderson says:

    “Sure, you may die if you get the virus. But masks really fog up my glasses, so I ask you–who is the REAL victim here?”

    Yeah, people who refuse to wear a mask should absolutely be scolded.

  3. david says:

    You need to stop indulging the world of remote possibilities and recognize the reality of actual probabilities. Most people with underlying conditions that would preclude them from wearing a mask are already staying home. In most cases people refuse to wear masks because they’re uninformed or ill-informed on the current health risks. If zealots want to confront these people (at a safe distance) I’m ok with that. I just ask that they record it so I may enjoy it later.

    That said, this post is so weird. You’re trying so hard to manufacture a neutral position and arguing the merits of both sides. You’re so enlightened, Brian! What shall we debate next? The benefits and drawbacks of flushing after we’ve had a poo? Here are some disadvantages: 1) it wastes water, 2) the flush lever may strain our muscles, 3) the sewage pipe may deteriorate with frequent use.

    I swore I’d never read this blog again after your belabored whinging of GE/TSA Precheck. It’s my fault for coming back. This truly was the dumbest thing I’ve read today.

  4. Tom says:

    A scientist, who reviews available evidence and forms a conclusion, and then changes that conclusion as newer, better data comes their way, is honorably practicing the scientific method. I cannot condemn them for that.

    Based on the today’s best available evidence, which says 1) that COVID-19 is airborne, can be spread by the simple act of talking, and can float for hours, and 2) that even relatively flimsy masks can reduce the amount, and the severity, of the virus taken into the lungs, I wear masks and keep socially distant. (The most current research also shows that COVID-19 doesn’t stay potent for as long as thought on surfaces.) There are some people, for whom wearing a mask is a legitimate medical concern, including those psychological issues like claustrophobia and panic attacks, but beyond that, not wearing a mask in an enclosed space populated by our fellow human beings, is as potentially cruel and unkind and irresponsible as injecting someone with a pathogen. We wouldn’t give political cover for that. Why should we for this?

  5. Lorie Rasmussen says:

    I don’t understamd how this is even a debate… people that believe in the cooties should not even leave their houses… the only 100% way to stop the spread is isolation, shelter in place. It’s ridiculous that people are even willing to go to stores, etc. KNoWING that they are only “reducing spread” by wearing masks… those people are no better than someone not wearing a mask when you get down to it.

  6. 02nz says:

    In pretty much every other country, this is a non-issue. People wear masks. And now the U.S. is the one country in the developed world where the disease is spiraling out of control. But yeah, freedom.

  7. Tom says:

    You MASK people just won’t quit, will you? It’s unbelievable how the deep pocket mask makers have gotten their claws into every democrat’s hide.

    TRY to understand this: As Americans, we fought for our freedom for a reason! We won’t be made to wear your ridiculous little girl masks. NEVER going to happen.

  8. NB_ga says:

    Nope. I do not mask up, in general.

    I do not support any extreme measures to prevent a random virus that kills far less than 1% of the population. Not masks. Not shutting businesses. Not closing schools. Not locking people away in their homes. Nothing.

    I support good hygiene because we should have been doing that anyway.
    I support social distancing because people often get too close anyway.
    I support those who are super panicked staying home because they are unable to function anyway.

    Mask-shamers need to address their own issue as to why they are unwilling to accept personal responsibility for themselves and their own health. It is truly unkind to ask others to acquiesce to their demands.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That last paragraph in your comment sounds quite familiar to me, NB_ga — similar to other comments in past articles — except replace the term mask-shamers with people with allergies or people who need emotional support animals.

      Your thoughts, please?

      1. NB_ga says:

        Exactly!!!

        We all have individual quirks… sensitivities… bugaboos. When a person chooses to force others to rearrange their lives for their own selfish needs, chaos ensues.

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