COVID-19 Update #6: To Mask or Not to Mask, Is That Really a Question?

To mask or not to mask? Is that really still a question? Unfortunately, to the dismay of our healthcare workers and infectious disease experts, whether people should wear a facemask remains a confounding question even now as COVID-19 cases skyrocket in 22 states.

Different countries have taken drastically different approaches and mindsets regarding the mask-wearing conundrum. For example, Asian countries like China, Korea, and Singapore have mandated the donning of facemasks in public. In contrast, many Western countries, such as the UK and US, have issued more lenient guidelines regarding mask-wearing. However, what both parts of the world can unequivocally agree upon is the effectiveness of facemasks at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Recent studies have used computer modeling to show that if 80% of Americans wore masks, as compared to only 50%, the number of new cases would plummet, and the curve will significantly flattened. Even with the plethora of scientific evidence and constant advocacy of the importance of respiratory etiquette, more and more anti-mask protests are emerging in some parts of the country, and it is becoming more evident that many Americans are still not accepting this life-saving safety measure. But why are people so reluctant to wear masks?

There are undoubtedly many reasons why mask-wearing, in particular, has caused an eruption of anger and resistance in the US. Part of it is that Americans have never been exposed to daily mask-wearing prior to the pandemic. In comparison, mask wearing in many Asian countries has always been popular during the annual flu season and has even developed into a fashion trend.

However, a more concerning reason is the various misconceptions that have been fabricated as an attempt to justify the disobedience of healthcare policies and discredit the extensive scientific evidence. In the following section, we will be examining some of the most common misconceptions regarding facemasks and attempting to debunk them.

People wearing protective masks stand on the corner during a busy day on Newbury Street, July 11, 2020, in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Misconception #1: Masks should only be worn for people who are actually sick.

Bridge Point of View:

This statement is not exactly correct. Facemasks, of course, must be worn by people who are COVID-19 positive, but at the same time, we must understand that most people who have been infected do not know that they are. In fact, the SARS-COV-2 virus has an incubation period of 5-6 days, and people who have been exposed to the virus could be asymptomatic for up to 2 weeks. During this asymptomatic period, the human carrier still has infectious potential and can spread the virus to people he or she encounters. Moreover, some who are infected never show any symptoms at all but are still an infectious source for those around them. So, mask-wearing, even for those who are seemingly “healthy”, is extremely important in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Misconception #2: Masks don’t work. The virus is too small to be blocked by masks.

Bridge Point of View:

Actually, they do. Many people raise the point that masks are not effective at filtering out viral particles because they are too tiny. However, most of these viral particles leave the mouth in larger droplets through sneezes or coughs that only become smaller as they evaporate. A face covering, even one that is made of cloth, can be effective at trapping these large droplets carrying the virus before evaporation, hindering the spreading at the source. Obviously, facemasks will not be able to trap 100% of the virus, because indeed some are too small to be trapped; however, the efficacy of wearing a mask is in lowering the number of viral particles spread from the source. After all, one more viral particle prevented from spreading could mean one more life saved.

Walmart to require customers to wear face masks at all its stores

Misconception #3: Masks don’t help me. Might protect others, but don’t protect me.

Bridge Point of View:

Masks actually do help you. Although they protect wearers slightly less than they help people they encounter, masks have been shown to decrease wearer’s chances of contracting COVID-19. While the CDC is still proactively researching how exactly facemasks are able to protect the wearer, one thing we know without a doubt is that wearing a mask is an altruistic behavior, meaning that the point of it is to protect others. If every individual obeys mask-wearing policies, everyone will be safe; in other words, we protect ourselves by ensuring that everyone protects others first. Now, although this might seem counter-intuitive to most people, especially in a modern society that values individualism over collectivism, the ideal execution of this altruistic approach will certainly be conducive to decreasing virus transmission. By the way, in case you forgot, we are still talking about something as simple as wearing a facemask.

Misconception #4: Masks could lead to health complications such as CO2 toxicity

Bridge Point of View:

Not quite. There have recently been an increasing number of misconceptions about wearing facemasks for extended periods of time. Rumors state that wearers will breathe in an excess amount of carbon dioxide, leading to health problems such as CO2 toxicity and hypoxia. These claims are untrue; most masks are properly constructed and well ventilated, and CO2 molecules are so tiny that it is impossible for them to be trapped within the breathable material of the masks. Other theories have stated that masks could potentially increase the concentration of viral particles around the mouth of the infected person and could lead to the worsening of symptoms. However, if you are sick, you already have the virus in your lungs, and symptoms will not get any worse. After all, wearing a mask is not harmful to healthy individuals, and the real harm is the risk to others around you if you choose not to wear a mask.

The above four most common misconceptions are only a minor subset of the numerous negative insinuations regarding facemasks. Our science experts at our sister-company Bridge Point Clean are aligned with both CDC recommendations and worldwide best practices, and we believe that mask-wearing is not only conducive, but necessary to successfully overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. To mask or not to mask? Hopefully, with the rumors debunked, it is no longer a question.