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Latest research shows people are getting on board with mask mandates

biden mask mandate
Photo via Peter Stevens/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

As President-elect Joe Biden begins his term on Jan. 20, the tenor of mask-wearing across the country could change within days. He’s expected to mandate masks in federal buildings, and you can be sure he’ll be wearing a face covering in public much more than his predecessor Donald Trump, who almost never did. Meanwhile, the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine could soon join Pfizer and Moderna in being distributed among Americans. 

So, perhaps there’s more hope to ending the pandemic than we’ve seen in months. But it’s not over yet. Dr. Anthony Fauci has said the pandemic could get even worse in the U.S. after the Christmas holiday, and January could be the worst month since the pandemic began. 

That’s why the continued wearing of masks in our everyday lives is imperative, despite what Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) says. More research continues to emerge about the masks and whether they should be worn to help stave off coronavirus transmissions, and the vast majority of it shows masks are vital to keep people safe from COVID-19. Recently, one of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s advisers said, “I’m still waiting for someone to point me to where in the world mask mandates are working.”

Well, here’s a sampling of some of the newest studies to be published along with other research we continue to discover. 

–Greenhalgh, T. (2020). Face coverings for the public: Laying straw men to rest. Journal Of Evaluation In Clinical Practice, 26(4), 1070-1077. doi: 10.1111/jep.13415  (May 2020) Response to criticism

Throughout the pandemic, the author has argued that politicians and other public officials should encourage people to wear masks. In a preprint paper published by The BMJ in May, Graham Martin, a researcher, and others accused author Trisha Greenhalgh of drawing conclusions that were not actually backed up by empirical research and for not weighing the “potential negative unintended consequences of a policy shift.” But in her own rebuttal, also published in May, Greenhalgh doubled down on her points, writing that she thanked “my academic adversaries for the intellectual sparring match, but exhort them to remember our professional accountability to a society in crisis. It is time to lay straw men to rest and embrace the full range of evidence in the context of the perilous threat the world is now facing.”

In her response, Greenhalgh wrote that Martin and his co-authors focused mostly on the question of whether the mask protected the mask-wearer. But Greenhalgh’s point was that she was also writing about how face coverings protect the rest of the community. In that aspect, Martin and others said the evidence on that was “very weak.” But Greenhalgh wrote that “the argument that we should not recommend face coverings because there are no published experiments is out of step with other public health policy on infection control in general and COVID‐19 in particular.”

The two sparred on other issues with her research, but in her conclusion, Greenhalgh wrote there was a bigger point at play. She wrote, “We also need to remember our moral accountability to a society in crisis. The relentless, day on day stories of avoidable deaths from this dreadful disease sicken me. I will do whatever I can, as an academic, a doctor and a citizen, to reduce that death toll and help get society back running again.”

–In a poll conducted in January 2021 by University of South Florida researchers, American adults are supportive of policy guidelines that aim to end the pandemic. According to the Tampa Bay Times, that includes two-thirds of people who actually support mask mandates.  

As the newspaper wrote, “66 percent said they would ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly’ support a nationwide mask mandate—including penalties for noncompliance. However, their responses varied by party affiliation. Fifty-five percent of Republicans would oppose a national mask mandate compared to 35 percent of Democrats.”

As of mid-January, 38 states had mask mandates, and the tone of Biden in his first few weeks in office could be an important factor in determining whether even more people get on board with mandates. 

In case you missed the last blog post, the spotlighted research showed that the more a surgical mask is used, the less effective it becomes. The post also highlighted an experiment that showed “the results of a laser light-scattering experiment in which speech-generated droplets and their trajectories were visualized.”

Josh Katzowitz

Written by Josh Katzowitz