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Opinion: Wearing a mask is an exercise in basic human decency

(MyNorthwest photo)

A new statewide mandate on wearing masks in public went into effect Friday in Washington. Meanwhile, the debate continues to foment over what really should be a common sense safety measure.

Ross: What to do about anti-mask resistance

To start, let’s just answer the question over masks once and for all. Early on in this pandemic, there was mixed messaging over their efficacy. But as it is with many things science doesn’t understand early on, conclusions have shifted. Today, things are far less uncertain.

We now have well-researched, compelling evidence from across the globe that says wearing a face covering in public helps reduce the transmission of COVID-19. One collaborative study between UC Berkeley and Hong Kong University found that if 80% of a population were to wear some sort of protective mask, coronavirus infection rates drop to one-twelfth of what’s seen in populations where no masks are worn.

Meanwhile, modelers at UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimate that 33,000 COVID-19 deaths could be prevented by October 1 if 95% of Americans wear masks (and if six-week lockdowns are implemented for any state or region where daily deaths exceed eight per every million people).

In Washington, the numbers from the IHME are just as stark. With 95% of people wearing masks, modelers estimate we’ll see roughly 215 daily COVID infections by October. Without masks, that number jumps to over 2,400 estimated daily infections.

“Masks can help us save lives and rebuild the economy by delaying lockdowns,” the IHME’s Dr. Ali Mokdad said. “U.S. states should act quickly to embrace this underutilized tool, which is one of the best tools available when it comes to preventing COVID-19.”

Long story short, masks work.

The second argument against masks posits that any government regulation mandating they be worn in public somehow amounts to tyranny. Some people have thrown some wild assertions out in front of that argument, claiming they cause everything from hypoxia to CO2 poisoning. Numerous health experts from across the globe have roundly debunked those claims.

To that, I’ll say this: Wearing a mask is part of our social contract, and barring any actual preexisting medical conditions, there’s no excuse for not getting on board. For the absurdly low price of putting a piece of cloth over your face in public places, you’re actively contributing to slowing the spread of a virus that continues to ravage its way through our population.

How mask directives can help slow spread of virus

Government regulations tell us we have to do any number of things to keep each other safe. We stop at red lights, drive on the right side of the street, and wear seatbelts not just for our own safety, but the safety of others. For that same reason, we don’t drink and drive, or yell “fire!” in a crowded theater. Those things constitute both the law, and an exercise in basic human decency.

Wearing a mask is similarly about the collective safety of our communities. Much like it is with a vaccine, the more people that participate, the safer we all are. And while a basic cloth face covering does little to prevent the virus from coming in, it’s proven to be extremely effective at keeping it from going out and infecting others. With a virus known for its ability to spread asymptomatically, every mask matters.

Or to put even more simply, this isn’t about any one person — it’s about all of us. So, please — if not for yourself, then wear a mask for your friends, family, loved ones, and fellow Washingtonians.

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