Every day it seems more and more people are jumping on the mask-wearing bandwagon, even as cases drop in New England. Sure, Texas and Florida cases are rising (not as alarming a rate as the mainstream media portrays, and more on that next time) but how is that relevant to New Hampshire?
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Some people choose to wear a mask so they feel better. Some are afraid of the city health department closing down their business. Then there are those who don’t think that freedom is really all that important.
Social media is full of misinformation; and, reliable media is often full of information with no context. Let’s take a scientific approach to the topic of the efficacy of wearing masks with respect to protecting yourself against getting COVID-19.
My doctorate is in applied-physics, not medicine. I try to focus on statistical correlations and not delve into medical explanations. Plenty of high-quality research has been done on the topic which is available in peer-reviewed articles. To read them you may need to brush up on statistics nomenclature since the most useful articles were heavily laden with jargon.
After researching for many hours my conclusion is that the most accurate statement about using masks (and really the only defendable statement anyone can make about mask usage) is that “people who wear masks in the US are about 55% less likely to get infected by the coronavirus.” This is based largely on a journal article that I highly recommend you read, especially if you love statistics.
“Efficacy of face mask in preventing respiratory virus transmission: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” Mingming Liang, Liang Gao, Ce Cheng, Qin Zhou, John Patrick Uy, Kurt Heiner, Chenyu Sun, Now published in Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, May 2020.
(As a side comment: there is a graphic circulating social media that shows percentages of infection for combinations of a pair of mask-wearing people: neither one, only the infected, only the non-infected, and both. You can be sure that it is pure fabrication. The reliable studies that exist barely come to consensus on the most basic issue of if a mask works at all much less subtle combinations of who and how.)
In the article I cite above, the group of researchers from around the globe, representing multiple organizations and countries did some serious work. They began with 2700 studies and reduced that number down using rigorous selection criteria of viability, repeatability, traceability, etc. Only 21 studies made the cut. The result of those reliable studies is shown in the “forest plot” below.
Note: an “odds ratio” less than one is good. An OR greater than one is counterproductive. As you can see there is quite a bit of variation in the results of all the studies that have been done worldwide. Some studies showed that masks made things 10 times worse. Some studies showed that masks were 100 times helpful. But, if you take an average of the averages you deduce a 65% odds reduction. (OR = 0.35). The reason I use 55% in my statement above has to do with “U.S.A.” and it is meant for the general population.
The authors do not attempt to explain the physics behind mask usage. They simply approach it from a statistics perspective, which I personally like. Other articles exist that suggest explanations: masks are not capable of filtering out viruses but they can stop mucous or large droplets from coming or going.
It is reasonable to argue that wearing a mask in and of itself doesn’t prevent you from inhaling a virus. It may reduce the spread if you are infected since it reduces the dispersion of large droplets.
It is also reasonable to say that mask usage corresponds with good hygiene, i.e. people who wear masks tend to be cautious about the virus and take other steps. So this is why my statement above, which is entirely consistent with the article by Liang says “people who wear masks…” rather than suggesting that “masks prevent…” It could simply be like tying a string around your finger to remind you to be cautious.
Now, with all that being said, let’s move on to the real issue. SHOULD you wear a mask in New Hampshire? The virus alarmists will say “55% improvement is better than nothing.” You could easily respond by saying “bulletproof vests improve your chances of not getting a chest wound but that doesn’t justify wearing one every day in New Hampshire.”
Life is full of cost-benefit considerations. We have limited resources (money and time) so we should apply our efforts where they are most efficiently used. More importantly, the government should not have the right to suspend the Bill of Rights and our Constitutional protections without unambiguously justifying the case of an emergency of sufficient magnitude.
The executive branches of our government should not be able to bypass the legislative process to issue mandates without a firm foundation. Article 2 Section 2 of the US Constitution provides wording to allow such acts in the case of an emergency. Unfortunately, the uninformed public has allowed the media and the government itself to declare a state of emergency.
We the public have not demanded regular proof. A daily tally is not proof alone. Every day in the US about 8000 people die from normal causes. The media loves to announce in all caps (figuratively) 2000 people died today of COVID-19! Without the context of regular deaths those counts sound massive. If the media instead announced “today COVID-19 is the 4th leading cause of death” it just doesn’t have that advertisement selling kick that they want.
In March, before we knew much we gave our government the benefit of the doubt due to a lack of data. That time has passed. I, for one, insist there should be some objective metrics based on measurable data with quantifiable economic impacts to tradeoff against. The inertia of the state of emergency is not just cause for continuing the state of emergency.
Let’s ask ourselves, especially those who are “all-in” with the COVID-19 scare, how much worse does the mortality of COVID-19 need to be to justify suspending the Bill of Rights and allowing the government to make it illegal for someone to earn a living doing what is normally acceptable behavior, or go to church, or attend a life-saving AA meeting?
Should COVID-19 deaths be 100 times worse than the flu to allow the government to issue emergency orders? If this were the case I think pretty much everyone could agree “yes.”
Should COVID-19 deaths have to be 10 times worse than the seasonal flu to allow the government to ban peaceful assembly in public? Still, in this case I think there is enough fearful people that a majority of people would go for it.
Should COVID-19 deaths be 5 times worse than the flu to justify suspending the Bill of Rights? At this point there should be a valid argument to say ‘no.”
How about if COVID-19 deaths were only twice as much as the seasonal flu should the government be authorized to bankrupt business owners and mandate that you only be allowed in public if you are wearing a face covering? Surely there would be a resounding “no” from nearly everyone.
Ask anyone to guess how many people die, on average, each year due to the annual flu in NH. Then ask them to guess how many have died from COVID-19 in NH so far. The answers are in NH on average 220 people die each year due to the flu and pneumonia (a result of the flu,) and currently 390 have died with the coronavirus. That’s a factor of 1.8x, not 100x, not 10x, not even 5x. By year’s end COVID-19 will likely end up 5th on the list of leading causes of death in NH by adding 700 to the roughly 10,000 people who die every year anyway.
All these numbers scale nationally and world-wide. In Massachusetts, by year’s end, COVID-19 will be only the 3rd leading cause of death and that is in a state widely recognized as an epicenter. Make no mistake, at one point COVID-19 was far and away the number one daily killer in Massachusetts, but that was two months ago and the rates are now down 90% and more than 98% of those who died with the coronavirus had underlying complications (comorbidity.)
Nationally and worldwide COVID-19 may only rank 4th. Considering the 3rd to 4th ranking and the comorbidity, a year from now if you were to look back on the total deaths world-wide you may have to squint really close to notice any net uptick.
Here I ask your forgiveness if you feel my attention to the numbers is callous but I’m not going to apologize. The precedent of allowing a state of emergency be called based on fear and the exaggerated magnitude of the situation is something that is almost unrecoverable. There are already too many big-government loving liberals and socialists. There are plenty of well-meaning but easily frightened. Add to that the huge swath of uninformed and there’s nearly a permanent majority who will sign up to the next state of emergency and all the orders that go with it.
With this example of a lack of sufficient public outcry, why would any politician restrain themselves from participating in government over-reach while the media pumps up the story so that they risk re-election if they don’t go along?
And so we return to the topic of wearing a mask in New Hampshire. If you are in a big, sweaty, heavy breathing crowd full of people from Massachusetts or New York where 20% of the population has been exposed (more on that next time) then wearing a mask is statistically effective. If you are working the checkout and interact with a thousand people a day, then wearing a mask might be worth it if you don’t already have a plastic shield and are older than 60.
It’s not something we do every winter during the flu season.
By itself, it is shown to only have a coin-toss worth of usefulness.
Today, the total number of people you would interact with in NH who are contagious is practically zero. Half of practically-zero is still practically-zero. Knowing when and where to make efforts that are productive and worth the cost is a sign of personal responsibility.
Our elected representatives do their job correctly when they listen to the people. Some of those governors (like in Massachusetts) are also more willing to suppress your liberties when they see healthy people wearing their freedom-hating mask of endorsement.
Here in New Hampshire, based on peer-reviewed journals and publicly available data you are statistically and scientifically justified to defend your freedoms by demonstrating your right to choose to wear a mask or not.