Latest research shows that mask mandates still work (and should be kept in place)

mask mandates coronavirus
Photo via Joseph Gage/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

As research shows, wearing masks to protect yourself and others during an outbreak is an idea that goes back centuries. Until enough of the population gets vaccinated for the world to achieve herd immunity, wearing a mask is one of the best ways to protect yourself and others during the coronavirus pandemic. 

President Joe Biden has written executive orders that mandate people wear masks while on federal land and on public transportation, and federal government officials have made a bigger show of people wearing their masks while doing their jobs. And maybe even double-masking is the right idea. 

So, yes, there’s more hope to ending the pandemic than we’ve seen in months. But it’s not over yet. January was the deadliest month since the pandemic began, and though the numbers have been coming down since then, there are still heartbreaking stories of entire families dying from the coronavirus. 

That’s why the continued wearing of masks in our everyday lives is imperative. 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, the latest research continues to show that person exactly where they should be looking to find out the truth on masks. 

–Texas is ending its statewide mask mandate this week and is allowing restaurants to open to full capacity. A new study from the CDC shows why that might be a bad idea. 

On March 5, the CDC released a study showing that mask mandates help slow the transmission of the coronavirus and that allowing dining inside restaurants does the opposite. “All of this is very consistent,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, via the Associated Press. “You have decreases in cases and deaths when you wear masks, and you have increases in cases and deaths when you have in-person restaurant dining.”

Earlier in the pandemic, CDC researchers found that, in 10 states, those who had dined inside restaurants were more likely to be infected. Meanwhile, mask mandates in 10 states helped decrease the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19. According to the CDC, the reduction of transmission was between 0.5% and 2%. “Each day that growth rate is going down, the cumulative effect—in terms of cases and deaths—adds up to be quite substantial,” said Gery Guy Jr., a CDC scientist who was the study’s lead author.

Meanwhile, 40 days after the reopening of restaurants, the coronavirus case rate grew by 1% and, eventually, the death rate increased between 2-3% points. 

All of which means you should continue to mask up. And you should most definitely avoid “mask off” parties in Houston. 

— One negative byproduct of people masking up for the past year is the impact on the environment. According to an Environmental Science & Technology study, nearly 130 billion face masks are used globally on a monthly basis. And that produces plenty of trash for landfills around the world.

But it’s not just the garbage that is disposed of properly, some of the biggest problems occur when these masks find their way into the mouths of macaques or around the bodies of seagulls. Even more disheartening is the report by OceanAsia, a Hong Kong-based environmental group, that 1.5 billion masks have potentially contaminated the world’s oceans. 

So, what do we do? We certainly can’t (or, at least, shouldn’t) stop wearing masks. Jill Crittenden of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had some advice. From Nautilus:

[She] told Nylon that it may be a good idea to look into buying a “high filtration mask”—essentially a better fitting surgical mask that is meant for single use, but can be used multiple times without sacrificing its filtration capabilities as long as it is not damaged or dirty. She also recommended having several masks in rotation, preferably stored individually in a paper bag for seven days after use to kill off potential contaminants.

In case you missed last week’s blog post, the spotlighted research showed which masks might be best for the hard of hearing community. 

Written by Josh Katzowitz