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COVID-19

A mask against misinformation

Experts correct common and outrageous arguments against wearing masks.

Some Michiganders facing stricter mask-wearing requirements and a $500 fine are not happy about it.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s July 10 executive order, a response to rising COVID-19 caseloads in the state, requires residents and businesses to wear a mask to protect others in public indoor and crowded outdoor spaces.

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A week before the order, Kalamazoo Gazette veteran Julie Mack penned an MLive.com article throwing shade on anti-maskers. MLive doesn’t allow comments on its website, but its Facebook post was a magnet for them.

In an effort to dispel misinformation and disinformation that could harm people’s lives, we’ve selected a few of the more common arguments to debunk:

“The masks do not stop the spread of the virus. They DO help with the sander and pollen! Sure, they will stop your spit too. But the virus will go right out of the mask.”

The common allegation here is that the virus is too small for a mask to catch, which the most recent science says is untrue.

“Viruses lie within the respiratory droplets which are much, much larger,” Dr. William Nettleton, Medical Director of Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services, said in a video posted to the department’s Facebook page.

“When I’m speaking, these droplets are coming out of my mouth, toward the camera, and they may land on someone’s nose, mouth, eyes, get inside and cause COVID-19 disease. The mask captures those large respiratory droplets. So when I wear my facemask, I’m protecting you. When you wear your facemask, you’re protecting me,” he said.

Dr. Amy Price, a senior research scientist at Stanford’s Anesthesia Informatics and Media Laboratory, said wearing a facemask prevents the breakdown of respiratory droplets and mucus.

“As mucus is exposed to air with the virus particles inside of it, it starts to evaporate and get smaller and smaller, and then it hangs in the air,” she said.

“THEY DO NOT PREVENT ANYTHING FROM LEAVING OR ENTERING YOUR BODY!!!! THEY ARE ACTUALLY UNHEALTHY FOR YOU IN LONG TERM USE AND LOWER YOUR BODY’S NATURAL IMMUNITY CAPABILITIES!!!!!”

There is no scientific evidence suggesting that face masks are harmful to the average person.

“In the … ambulatory (walking around) community, I’d say it’s hard to imagine a more damaging health consequence than what many people experience when they get an effective dose of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and develop complications,” said Dr. Jim Anthony, Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Michigan State University. “I have not seen evidence that any simple cloth mask is causing long-term damage to anyone out walking around … Inconvenience, yes, but long-term health damage, no. Let’s see the evidence before believing that claim.”

Nettleton points to doctors who wear facemasks for a significant portion of the day, though he said there are some exceptions for safety, like “people who may have trouble breathing, if someone is unconscious, and children under the age of two.” For most people, Nettleton said, “it is more of an inconvenience and something that is new rather than something that cannot be tolerated for a medical reason.”

There is also no evidence that facial coverings affect the body’s natural immunity capabilities, said Dr. Amy Jessop, Associate Professor of Public Health at Western Michigan University.

“Masks are not worn 24/7 for a lifetime. The minute they are removed, all organisms and allergens in the immediate environment are present and the body will respond to them.”

“So a sick man wore a mask and no one else did and no one else got sick so sick people should be the ones wearing masks”

This comment suggests that only sick people should wear masks rather than the entire general population.

“Infected people shed the virus before they have symptoms, so they can spread the virus before they realize they are sick. Some people feel few if any symptoms even though they may be infected,” said Jessop.

At least wear a cloth mask, Anthony said, even if you’re not showing symptoms, since “we don’t know who is infected and who is not infected, nor who has durable immunity and who does not have durable immunity.”

“If a mask is supposed to protect you, why do you have to stand 6 feet apart? If standing 6 feet apart is supposed to protect you, Why do you have to wear a mask? If wearing a MASK AND STANDING 6 FEET APART is supposed to protect you, why are several states STILL on lockdown?”

Dr. Larry Chu, Professor of Anesthesiology and director of the Stanford AIM Laboratory, said “wearing a mask is not a replacement for social distancing.”

All of these precautionary measures work best together, Jessop said, because neither completely prevents the transmission, only reduces the chances of contracting it.

“Social distancing is still important, even with the mask. Reducing the likelihood of exposure and infection requires face coverings but also hand washing, avoiding touching face and masks with unclean hands, and distancing,” said Jessop. “Each step adds protection.”

And comments including this picture:

This photo comparing cloth face masks to equipment used in industrial settings mistakes protecting others for protecting oneself.

“A cloth mask is used to reduce the spread of respiratory droplets, or to protect your neighbor,” said Nettleton.

Chu said he uses a heavy duty or an N95 respirator “when I am putting a breathing tube in a patient because they have COVID—they can’t breathe and I have to put them on a ventilator—I can’t do that and social distance. I am exposing myself to the virus.”

“That’s right sheep this will fix it!”

The photo of this box — or variations of it — has been widely shared around Facebook as an attempt to prove that masks don’t work. Once again, people who share this misinformation do not understand how masks work.

“It is more about the concept of source control and reducing the spread of those respiratory droplets,” Nettleton said.

That is to say, if the person wearing this type of mask is infected, it reduces the amount of infected respiratory droplets the wearer emits from their nose and mouth. It does little to protect the wearer from breathing in droplets from others.

“What this is all about is overall reducing risk.”