Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Most Common Sense Way To Stop Spreading the Virus (#masks4all)

Executive Order To Slow Spread. The President of the United States should issue an executive order immediately requiring everyone to wear surgical masks or washable DIY masks made from cotton t-shirts when they go out. Along with social distancing and widespread testing, #masks4all is likely to dramatically slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Experts Changing Their Minds on Masks. In our March 25 Morning Briefing, we wrote: “Hopefully, social distancing for a few weeks and widespread testing will allow us to return to our normal lives in a few weeks. Meanwhile, we should produce billions of surgical masks to wear when we venture out of our homes. Indeed, the government should mandate that everyone wear a mask outside their homes until the crisis passes. Authorities are doing that in many places in Asia now. ….

“Yes, we know: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators or surgical masks to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. In particular, the latter don’t filter or block very small particles in the air transmitted by coughs and sneezes. However, a friend in the medical supply business tells us that they are effective in stopping the release of those particles by infected people who wear them. Surgeons wear masks to protect patients from their mouth-borne germs, not the other way around. The CDC warning seems to be about saving the masks for the hospital workers. The solution is mass production in the millions per week.”

Subsequently, medical experts have changed their minds: They now think we should wear face masks. Their advice is laid out in a new report in Science magazine. Even the CDC is coming around, according to a March 30 article in the The Washington Post titled “CDC considering recommending general public wear face coverings in public.” Here is the relevant excerpt:

“CDC guidance on masks remains under development, the federal official said. The official said the new guidance would make clear that the general public should not use medical masks — including surgical and N95 masks — that are in desperately short supply and needed by health-care workers.

“Instead, the recommendation under consideration calls for using do-it-yourself cloth coverings, according to a second official who shared that thinking on a personal Facebook account. It would be a way to help ‘flatten the curve,’ the official noted.

“Such DIY cloth masks would potentially lower the risk that the wearer, if infected, would transmit the virus to other people. Current CDC guidance is that healthy people don’t need masks or face coverings.

“At the daily White House briefing Monday, President Trump was asked if everyone should wear nonmedical fabric masks. ‘That’s certainly something we could discuss,’ Trump said, adding, ‘it could be something like that for a limited period of time.’”

Models Support Universal Masking. A doctor friend claims that if everyone wore a mask, the pandemic would end in a matter of a few weeks. This view jibes with a March 2019 study titled “Modeling the Effectiveness of Respiratory Protective Devices in Reducing Influenza Outbreak.” Here is a very relevant excerpt:

“Outbreaks of influenza represent an important health concern worldwide. In many cases, vaccines are only partially successful in reducing the infection rate, and respiratory protective devices (RPDs) are used as a complementary countermeasure. In devising a protection strategy against influenza for a given population, estimates of the level of protection afforded by different RPDs is valuable. In this article, a risk assessment model previously developed in general form was used to estimate the effectiveness of different types of protective equipment in reducing the rate of infection in an influenza outbreak. … An 80% compliance rate essentially eliminated the influenza outbreak.”

Jeremy Howard, a research scientist at the University of San Francisco, found 34 scientific papers indicating basic masks can be effective in reducing virus transmission in public—and not a single paper that shows clear evidence that they cannot. In a March 28 op-ed in The Washington Post, he wrote:

“Masks don’t have to be complex to be effective. A 2013 paper tested a variety of household materials and found that something as simple as two layers of a cotton T-shirt is highly effective at blocking virus particles of a wide range of sizes. Oxford University found evidence this month for the effectiveness of simple fabric mouth and nose covers to be so compelling they now are officially acceptable for use in a hospital in many situations. Hospitals running short of N95-rated masks are turning to homemade cloth masks themselves; if it’s good enough to use in a hospital, it’s good enough for a walk to the store.”

DIY in Czech Republic. The March 30 issue of The Guardian reports: “Czech citizens have mobilised in a national effort to make and distribute home-made masks after the government decreed face-wear mandatory for everyone in an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The government, led by the prime minister, Andrej Babi┼í, has trumpeted mask-wearing as vital in controlling the spread of the virus and has urged other governments to follow suit. The Czech Republic and neighbouring Slovakia are the only two countries in Europe to impose mandatory mask-wearing...”

Taiwan’s Masks. Wearing masks to eliminate the virus pandemic seems to be working in Taiwan, which has a population of 23.8 million. Taiwan is right next to mainland China, and lots of businesspeople and tourists travel between the two countries. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese work and invest in China.

As of yesterday, Taiwan had just 306 cases of COVID-19 and five deaths! Consider the following points gleaned from a February 10 VOA article titled “Taiwanese Scramble for Face Masks to Stop Deadly Virus From Nearby China”:

(1) The island nation has a dense population where multiple generations live under the same roof. The Taiwanese are prone to influenza and a contagious gastrointestinal illness that has killed small children. They also recall the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2003. SARS originated in China and spread to Taiwan, killing 73 on the island.

(2) The disease-wary Taiwanese tend to wear surgical masks as a precaution against airborne pathogens at higher numbers than people elsewhere. In Taipei, a city of 2.6 million, 50% of people routinely wear face masks.

(3) The island’s 80 mask producers have raised production recently to meet rising demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a rationing of sales to ensure that no one hoards the supplies.

(4) Demand for surgical face masks—to prevent cough-borne COVID-19 droplets from landing on others—has surged throughout East Asia. That’s particularly true in Malaysia and Thailand, which get high numbers of Chinese tourists. Malaysia, with a population of 32.3 million, has had 2,626 cases of COVID-19 and 37 COVID-19-related deaths. Thailand has a population of 69.7 million, 1,524 cases, and 9 deaths.

We will survive this crisis. But let’s not lose our minds, our jobs, and our businesses without considering our options and the consequences of our actions.

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