As for the thread title’s question: What I remember hearing (whether or not it was accurate) was that masks (at least, non-medical-grade masks) were worse than useless because they didn’t stop virus particles from getting through (as Sage Rat explained) but they made it more likely that people would touch their faces.
But at some point the effectiveness might be so close to zero that it’s not worth bothering. Like a dust mask is useful for keeping large quantities of sawdust out of your nose, and a wet rag might help keep some smoke out of your lungs in a fire, so in those situations every little bit helps. But if only a little bit of an airborne virus can make you sick, then a dust mask or a wet rag are going to have an effectiveness of nearly zero. That’s why medical staff still needs N95 masks.
BUT – the attitude that might be changing is one akin to herd immunity and breaking the infection chains. A simple cloth mask might not do anything to prevent you from inhaling an airborne virus, but it might prevent you from spitting on food in the grocery store. And if we all assume we’re already infected, and we ALL wear masks, that’s going to cut down on the amount of infected spittle on the produce. Maybe.
It seems to me, a layman, that the difference in recommendations might be how they’re looking at the effectiveness. As an individual trying to avoid getting infected, the CDC tells me that a mask won’t help. But as a member of society participating in a combined effort of social distancing and extreme hygiene, maybe it will help flatten the curve.
In any case, I’m going out to the pharmacy today to pick up some prescriptions and I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I don’t have any masks in the house but I could rig something up if I thought it would help.
As I understand it, no. Hospital workers change masks frequently-- which is why they need so many. People wearing them around town are wearing the same one all day, and it gets damp from the moisture in their breath, which can actually make it a breeding ground for all kinds of germs, particularly bacteria that cause pneumonia. Masks loaded with bacteria can be what cause someone with asymptomatic Covid-19 to develop pneumonia.
This is the really salient point. Masks do not stop the virus from coming in. They stop it going out.
Hospital workers are wearing the masks not so much to protect themselves from catching Covid-19, but to protect patients already infected from Covid-19 from catching an additional infection when they are vulnerable. Everyone harbors all kinds of stuff that does not make them very ill, but can devastate someone else. This is why surgeons wear masks while operating, but the patient does not.
Not to mention, you can become infected through ANY mucous membrane. My cousin the PCP told me to wash my hands not only after using the toilet, but BEFORE as well. And also, right before brushing my teeth. Also, to rinse the whole toothbrush down with warm water. Not just the bristles, the WHOLE brush.
If everyone wears a mask, then all the sick people who have minor or no symptoms are also wearing masks by default. There have been reports to indicate that people with minor symptoms could be major spreaders of the infection. Even if there was little to no benefit from healthy people wearing masks, it could still be worth it to have a culture of mask wearing during a pandemic to make sure that most infected people are wearing masks.
Areas of the world that have widespread mask use seem to have more success in keeping the virus under control, so I’m not convinced the WHO guideline is a good one. Medical professionals should be a priority for masks of course, and it’s terrible how badly prepared a lot of countries have been for this.
One strong argument I’ve heard is that if only “sick” people wear masks, people who are very mildly symptomatic don’t wear them because of the stigma. If I “know” it’s allergies, I don’t want to wear a mask and be treated like typhoid Mary. Encouraging everyone to wear masks moves the social pressure in the right direction.
I’m looking at the 3M, 8511, n95 respirator my brother had in his machine shop.
In addition to the mistakes most people will make while using them; not fitting correctly, not disposing when indicated, not touching the contaminated side, etc.
This mask has the nifty little feature of a ‘one way’ valve so my, potentially, virus laden exhalations are free to contaminate anyone that thinks me wearing this mask somehow protects them.
By similar token, we don’t have a complete eye on every rock in space nor a way to shift large, scary objects off course.
We will probably always be ill-prepared for irregular, large-scale crises.
Given a 1 in 1,000,000 event which will cost $5t to prepare for, is today the day to invest in it? Probably, no. Even when the cost is much lower, when you have $3m that you can use to buy a bunch of respirators and stick into a warehouse to ignore for a few years until they all get moldy and need to be replaced with all new ones, or take that same $3m to help screen for crazy people buying guns, the latter will almost always win out in the budget cycle. And particularly when you consider: Should we be buying respirators, stocking up on blood plasma, defibrillators, or what? A respiratory disease might be the most likely of diseases to go into pandemic mode, but there’s no reason that it couldn’t be something else. Prion pandemic?
Buying a bunch of junk that you have a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of ever needing is stupid and wasteful. Likewise, not doing so is stupid.
There is no real answer. To some extent the best we have is the assumption that different places will focus on different things and be better prepared against it so that, at least, some of human is likely to survive through any one thing.
Keeping a larger stockpile does not need to mean filling landfills with unused junk. Just to give a completely fictitious example, assume masks expire in 2 years, and your organization needs 2.4 million masks to cover regular use for 2 years. You could do this in a few ways:
Keep a stockpile of 100-200k, and order 100k new ones once per month
Keep a stockpile of 2-2.4 million, and order 100k new ones once per month.
In both examples you use the same amount of masks, waste no masks, and order the same amount of new masks. The difference is how much capital is tied up into your stockpile. The 2nd organization is spending more money on storage, but is also much more resistant to disruptions in the supply chain.
LEAN thinking has become common in business and manufacturing. The 1st is closer to how most of the world operates these days, and the 2nd example would be generally considered wasteful. The money tied into that stockpile of masks is not being invested in something useful to make more money or generate value, so under normal circumstances it’s better not to stockpile. LEAN is not always so good at dealing with emergencies though, and governments should be able to take the slightly more wasteful route to prepare for large scale disasters, especially when lives are at stake. It’s not like masks are only being used in pandemics. They are a basic item that is in constant use everywhere in health care.
I agree it seems the wearing of masks may prevent people from affecting others with whatever they harbor. The part about wearing one to prevent one’s self from getting infected appears to be where the problem is.
Also, cant the airborne infection also get into your eyes and infect you that way? When I see people wearing all kinds of masks and not covering their eyes it seems like a waste. I also see people walking around outside wearing a mask, not near anyone else - is that even doing anything?
They say masks, properly worn, may have a limited impact to avoid getting the disease and that most people aren’t really wearing them right in the first place. The recommendations are still, wash your hands, maintain distance, and avoid touching your face. And that’s the case even in Asian countries, where those steps seem to be the key ones in addition to early, decisive measures by their governments (which is why Japan is looking like they’re in for trouble - masks or not, they delayed on a lot of this).
Yes, they may have some benefit in general, but the way many people wear them, it defeats the purpose. The false sense of security is very real and counterproductive in many cases.
I’m a little surprised that the hospitals themselves, and especially the counties and states don’t have their own stockpiles. It SHOULDN’T be the Federal government’s problem to supply the country with masks- local governments should be ready, willing and able to supply that. Just like in hurricanes- the city, county and state governments should be ready to take care of business, with the Feds showing up to support and do really heavy lifting a few days later. Same thing here- the Feds should be coordinating the production and shipment of masks/gloves/supplies to supplement and replace the local stockpiles, not having to step in and supply right off the bat.
What surprises me is that there is no PLAN to produce emergency supplies and distribute them in a hurry. I mean, there ought to be a Mark 1 Government Ventilator design made months or years ago that can be cranked out by the thousands by relatively low-tech manufacturers and/or 3D printers. And maybe have standing contingency contracts to make them- i.e. a mfgr agrees that when Uncle Sam comes calling, they agree to produce X number at Y rate for Z price, or they suffer penalties.
That way, when some random disease outbreak happens, the government can just activate/execute those contracts to produce those ventilators- the cost would be known, the time would be known, and the capabilities would be known.