One of my grandchildren, whose school is fully virtual, attends a dance program that adheres to strict pandemic safety guidelines. All dancers wear masks at all times. They sanitize their hands before entering a room. They socially distance while dancing. This means that if there are more than ten dancers signed up for a given class, half attend in person and half virtually on a given week. No one other than the dancers may come into the building, which was retrofitted with an air purifying system. No one eats in the building or uses the dressing rooms or water fountains.
Despite the abundance of caution taken by the program, a student in one of my grandchild’s classes came to dance and discovered later that she was positive for Covid-19. The other dancers in that class were tested before they could come back to the studio. None of them tested positive. The masks did their job.
Not all programs can follow the model established by this one, but every place where people gather can require masks. This simple act, coupled with social distancing and hand-washing, would save 130,000 lives this winter.
I believe in masks because I believe in science.
A study at the University of Kansas comparing counties with and without mask mandates revealed that the non-masking counties had steadily increasing numbers of Covid-positive people while the mask-wearing counties case load was relatively flat. The data revealed that there was a 50% reduction in the spread of Covid-19 in the counties with mask mandates compared with those with no mandate. Masks definitely slowed the spread of the disease.
A study at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee compared the rate of hospitalizations for Covid-19 in counties with and without mask mandates. Coronavirus hospitalizations in hospitals where less than 25 percent of the patients came from counties with mask requirements had a huge increase, up more than 200 percent since July 1. In comparison, in hospitals where more than 75 percent of the patients came from counties with a mask requirement, hospitalizations were flat compared to July 1.
It’s obvious that doctors and scientists believe masks are one of the simplest ways of slowing the spread of the virus as cases and hospitalizations increase heading into winter. And yet, even though the percentage of Americans wearing masks has increased, most of the attendees of Trump rallies forgo wearing them. There have been violent confrontations when people have been asked to wear masks. For example, recently two sisters in Chicago stabbed a shoe store security guard who asked them to wear masks. In September, an 80-year-old man in West Seneca, N.Y., died after another man pushed him to the floor for asking him to wear a mask in a bar. In July, a confrontation at a Michigan grocery store over mask wearing resulted in a stabbing death and a police shooting of the assailant
While these are extreme examples, I recently encountered a mask-less man checking out at a local 7/11 with a “masks required” sign prominently displayed on its door. After he left, I asked the clerk how he felt about serving the man. “Not safe,” he replied, “but there’s no way I’m going to confront him and the others who do this. I’m afraid they will hurt me.”
What happens if people show up to vote on November 3 without wearing masks? Even states with mask mandates can’t force voters to wear masks. They can suggest they wear them and provide free masks, but I’m pretty sure there will be many who will see that as an infringement of their personal freedom. Not wearing a mask has foolishly become a political statement, and our election has the potential of being another super-spreader event. How sad.
I have very few pictures of my grandkids without masks covering their faces this year. It will make for a very sad memory book for 2020. But I am grateful that they wear them. It’s a small sacrifice for the huge chance that they will stay healthy.