Post #935: If you have 10-cent lungs, by all means, wear a 10-cent mask.

Posted on January 3, 2021

Source:  Carnegie-Mellon Delphi Group Covidcast.  This is based on an ongoing Facebook survey of mask use.  That website has a wealth of very current information related to COVID-19.  The still images are early September (left) and December 31 2020 (right).

I once had a friend who was a motorcyclist.  And, separately, was just about as big a cheapskate who ever walked the earth.  (And I say that with the utmost admiration.)  Except that he always wore a top-of-the-line full-face Bell helmet.  When I asked him why he spent the big bucks, he said “If you have a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet.”

To which I have now added my ten cents.

This post is just a short rant on masks.  The point is simple enough.

Getting people to wear a mask is a good start.  Getting people to wear a good mask may be more of a challenge.  Or, at least, that’s been my observation in Northern Virginia, of late.

To me, the increase in mask use above seems reluctant, for want of a better word.  Grudging, perhaps. The places that started off light (fully half-a-year into the U.S. pandemic) remain lighter-than-average now (at what I hope is the peak of the U.S. third wave of the pandemic).   The upper Midwest states that started with low mask use, then set the record for the rate of COVID deaths per capita per day, still don’t show 100% compliance with mask use when in public.

Lately, I’ve been noticing a different variant of that same attitude here in Northern Virginia.  Sure, everybody wears a mask now, when shopping.  And the “Republican dangle” (mask not fully covering mouth and nose) has thankfully gone out of style, so you don’t see that signalling behavior any more.  Everybody seems to be behaving in accordance with Virginia law, which requires mouth and nose to be covered.

But a lot of of what I see is still low-quality masks, slapped on at the last possible second, and worn poorly.  And the clear winner for bottom-of-the-barrel compliance is the 20-cent blue disposable ear-loop procedure mask, worn with no attempt whatsoever to fit it to the face.

Yesterday, I ran across a woman who had one of those on, with gaps at the side so large I could see her mouth, when in profile.  Surely, no adult capable of transacting business in a store thinks that masks are magic.  That the mere act of having something sitting loosely in front of your face somehow greatly reduces transmission of droplets and aerosols.

And so I interpret the behavior of that woman, and her many blue-disposable-wearing peers, as grudging compliance with the letter of the law.  Because, around here at least, peer pressure pretty much assures 100% compliance.

In Northern Virginia, you don’t see anyone, maskless, in the stores.  You don’t see anyone with the mask dangling off their face.  And so, you get compliance with the law.

But that still doesn’t mean that you can make make people take that seriously.  And, crazy as it sounds, at this late date, it still seems like a lot of people are just not taking this seriously.

JAMA recently published a test of masks, showing ability to filter aerosols when worn properly (Post #924).  That included a simple, 30-second modification that vastly increased the efficiency of disposable surgical masks.

But that was aimed at people who were serious about masks.  I think we need another set of mask tests, one that shows how little masks do when worn improperly.  If you have a loose-fitting mask that’s easy to breathe in (because the air is going around the mask, not through it), you are probably getting minimal benefit and providing minimal protection to your neighbors.

Source:  A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)

The point is, there are lots of opportunities to pick up something better than a cheap blue ear-loop surgical mask.  And even if you stick with that, there is a simple tuck-and-tie method that makes those filter much more efficiently. That tied-and-tucked method is shown in this YouTube video. 


And yet, nobody is doing that.  Now that the wear-a-mask message seems to be getting through, maybe it’s time to up that to wear-a-good-mask.  And wear it properly.

N95s.  As a final note, what we all ought to want to be wearing is N95s.  (Or better.)  But those were all pulled from legitimate retail channels early in the U.S. pandemic.

But have you noticed something in the news, lately, regarding N95 mask shortages in this third U.S. Covid wave?  Or rather, something that’s not in the news.  Despite the vastly higher rates of hospitalization now, due to the third wave of COVID-19, I’m not seeing reports of N95 respirator shortages in hospitals.  Looks like the markets may have ironed that out, mostly.

Here’s Virginia, as of today.  Note what isn’t there — any hospital that has any current or expected near-term shortage of any PPE.

Source:  Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.

And, in turn, the retail embargo on N95s continues to show cracks.  The legit Kimberly-Clark N95s that I picked up a few weeks ago on Amazon (Post #918) are long-since sold out.  But there are now other offers of N95s, but only for business-to-business sales.  (So you need to buy a large quantity, and you need to open an Amazon business account to buy them).  Either way, whereas two months ago, Amazon appeared to have no legitimate offers of N95 masks to the public, there now continues to be a trickle of apparently legitimate postings for N95 masks.  I expect (and hope) to see that increase in the future.  At that point, it will just be question of getting people to wear them.