By Sarah Brill, Science and Technology Editor
As of December 16, 2020, the United States has had the largest number of coronavirus cases, counting 16.8 million total cases. Countries like Australia, on the one hand, have just hit 0 cases, New Zealand had a complete lockdown at 4 cases in March and has not experienced a surge at all, even China, back in April, hit 0 cases. So what is the United States doing wrong? For one thing, our country is divided. Many people claim that masks “do not work.” For instance, there has been a popular trend on TikTok (a social media app) where anti-maskers place their spray bottles up to a mask and indicate that the water droplets are going through the mask. However, protests like these just show a lack of scientific understanding. A sneeze is not as big as a water droplet so their test is inherently flawed. Although scientists, including Bill Nye, have been disproving these theories, even creating videos on TikTok to contradict them, anti-maskers continue to create more theories to prove why they should not wear a mask.
Another very popular opinion is that masks will somehow restrict the flow of oxygen or that there will be a buildup of carbon dioxide if the mask is worn for a long period of time. A credible source is not required to show that this is not the case. Masks have been used in the hospital setting since 1897, when Polish surgeon Johann Mikulicz and French surgeon Paul Berger started using them in order to prevent infection while performing surgery. If masks somehow restricted oxygen flow, then from 1897-2020 there would be a considerable amount of deaths or medical emergencies from surgeons wearing masks. According to Mayo Clinic “[t]here is no risk of hypoxia, which is lower oxygen levels, in healthy adults. Carbon dioxide will freely diffuse through your mask as you breathe.” Even in unhealthy adults, mask usage is common practice. If you have either volunteered in a hospital or have been a visitor, you will know that many patients, especially on the oncology (cancer) floor, wear masks in order to protect themselves, while nurses, doctors, and staff, on the reverse, wear masks to protect those patients.
Additionally, there is a myth that someone is not required to wear a mask if they are well. Coronavirus has many different forms. While people may be symptomatic, with visible or tangible symptoms, they can also be asymptomatic or presymptomatic, without visible or tangible symptoms. When people are feeling healthy while actually being asymptomatic, they easily spread the virus to another person whom they encounter. As we know, coronavirus is expressed differently in each person, so it is important to wear a mask to keep yourself and others safe. With both parties wearing a mask, the transmission rate is low.
Some people believe masks have no impact on the spread of the virus or that someone else will wear a mask so they do not have to. Unfortunately, that is not how the virus works. In order to protect others from the virus I must wear a mask. In order to protect myself from the virus, I need the other person to also wear a mask. This is a two way street which will only work if both parties are wearing a mask. A person might walk out of his or her house and say, “I am not going to wear a mask because everyone else will wear one.” Unfortunately, half the population may think the same, which results in the increasing spread. According to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, 33,000 deaths could have been avoided by October 1 if 95% of people wore masks in public.
Long story short, wear your mask. Protect yourself and others around you, simple as that.