Post #950: The mask question goes mainstream.

Posted on January 14, 2021

The above is the title of an article from yesterday’s Atlantic.  My wife just forwarded it to me with the comment that this is what I wrote about last week.  But in fact, it touches on things I’ve been writing about for months.

First, note the sub-head:  Cloth masks are better than nothing.  That pretty much sums it up for me.  Ditto for those cheap disposable blue ear-loop surgical masks.

It’s a short article.  You should take a couple of minutes to read it.  There’s almost nothing there that you haven’t read here over the past few weeks.  But it’s heartening to see this in mainstream media. 

And I think it’s worth reiterating the high points.  Which I’m now going to do by copying extensively from that article.  And then maybe use this as an excuse to put together links to my relevant postings on masks, as a separate post.

The author of the Atlantic article doesn’t go on to what I now see as the obvious policy implication:  Supply N95 respirators to the elderly via the Medicare program. 

I think people will eventually get around to that.  You just have to ask whether the pandemic will be over before we finally get our act together on masks.

If you read this blog, you’ll know I’ve been a rabid supporter of mask use from the beginning.  E.g., I shaved my beard back in March, when it became obvious that aerosol transmission was an issue and masks were required (Post #573). Well before we had a Virginia mask mandate, I excoriated our local grocery stores for lack of masks, while my local Trumpist mayor-to-be was busy defending the lack of masks by parroting some well-polished corporate lies (Post #657).

And so, in that context, this next bit should be pretty obvious.

The article contains a paragraph summarizing just some of the effective, common-sense things other countries have done to provide quality masks to their populations.  Countries that are in much better shape than the U.S., in this pandemic.

In the U.S.A., meanwhile, courtesy of the Republican Party, we’ve spent our time squabbling over whether or not people should wear masks.

And so, when I read that paragraph, I didn’t really focus on how good and obvious those various solutions were.  My only thought was, man, I am tired of being on Team Stupid.  Locally stupid, nationally stupid, it’s all pretty much the same.  Let’s hope that changes with the new administration.  And let’s hope that changes fast enough that it has some effect before the pandemic is over.

Quotes from:  Why Aren’t We Wearing Better Masks?,by Zeynep Tufecki and Jeremy Howard, The Atlantic, 1/13/2021.

I’ve taken these out of order, to tell a story.  You should read the original article in its entirety.

If you’re like most Americans, there’s a good chance you’re going to wear a cloth mask today.  ... But it’s past time for better solutions to be available to the public.

Cloth masks, especially homemade ones, were supposed to be a stopgap measure. Why are so many of us still wearing them?

... medical-grade masks (also called respirators) ... do a much better job of protecting the wearer and dampening transmission. 

...early on in the pandemic, there was a dire shortage of higher-grade masks for medical workers.
...the supply situation apparently remains so dire that the CDC still “does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators,” because they’re crucial supplies that must continue to be reserved for health-care workers and other first responders.

... the CDC language on supply shortages has not been updated, it’s unclear if that’s because the shortages are really that dire or because this topic has not been paid sufficient attention. In either case, the CDC should update us on the situation.

... America is swamped with fraudulent medical-grade masks, ... All of this means that everyone has to somehow figure out for themselves which masks are effective.

... we’ve become informal advisers to friends, family, and strangers on the internet. We’re not much help, though. When our friends ask us simple questions like “Where should I buy a mask?” or “Is my mask any good?,” we don’t have great answers.

... A good supply of KN95 masks is available from China ... But none of these solutions can work widely as long as the public has little guidance on which masks are reliable and certified.

... When one of us found FDA-certified KN95 masks at a local supermarket ... She ended up purchasing a bunch to distribute, an effort that would have been comical if it weren’t so tragic.
Not all countries have this problem ...  by April every citizen received a fresh supply of high-quality masks each week ... distributing patented six-layer masks every citizen ... distributing free, reusable, multilayer masks with filters to everyone ... just announced that it will be requiring higher-grade masks. 

If all of these places can do this, why can’t we?