Get people to wear the damn masks

Posted on May 19, 2020

COVID-19 has killed more than 90,000 Americans so far and, due to his numerous lies and mistakes, Donald Trump is substantially to blame.

Let us focus on one particular catastrophic mistake, discouraging Americans from using masks in public, which is one of the simplest and most effective ways to fight the virus and save lives. For starters we must, unlike Trump, understand a little science.

A coronavirus needs a host body to survive. Outside of a body, the virus deteriorates and dies. If we could stop all transmission of the virus from one person to another, the virus would be gone within a few weeks – some infected people would die and the virus with it, and the rest would develop antibodies that would kill off the disease. Stop transmission and the coronavirus is gone. More realistically, stop a great deal of transmission and the disease is brought under control. But how?

The COVID-19 virus is mainly transmitted within droplets expelled from the mouths or noses of people with the infection. The droplets most commonly travel approximately one to six feet before falling to the ground, which is why six feet is the general rule for “social distancing.”

Masks filter out droplets. A tight-fitting N95 mask is quite effective for the wearer, a surgical mask less effective, and nonmedical masks (e.g., cloth masks) provide the wearer some level of protection.

However, Trump’s catastrophic mistake is not about people using masks to protect themselves, it is about protecting others. One-quarter or more of individuals with COVID-19 are experiencing no symptoms, and when such infected people wear a mask, even a cloth mask, it very greatly reduces the number of droplets sent into the air. If everyone wears a mask when in a public place indoors, on public transportation, or within six feet of someone outdoors (ten feet to be polite!), the infection would be very greatly reduced in just weeks.

Have you heard this basic information from the Trump Administration? No! Yet, at any time, Trump could have rallied both red and blue Americans to wear masks in public. If he had done so several weeks ago, it would have prevented thousands of deaths and enabled economic activity to safely resume much sooner than it will. But he believes he benefits from sowing confusion and dissent.

Trump and his allies eschewed mask wearing and turned this simple, obvious public health measure into a question of partisanship. As a result, millions of Americans refuse to wear masks. Those who are infected spread disease and death to everyone’s family and friends. These deaths are entirely preventable.

Of course, masks are only one of Trump’s mistakes. He destroyed much of our nation’s existing ability to respond to a pandemic; he ignored urgent warnings from national security and health agencies; he repeatedly lied about the dangers; he put incompetent people in charge; his administration flubbed the creation and distribution of testing kits; he promoted untested or absurd cures; he failed to coordinate the effort to secure medical equipment; and he encouraged right-wing groups, activists and elected officials to violate simple pandemic restrictions that were designed to protect us all.

In sum, at a critical time when truth and competence were and are a matter of life and death, Trump has been an ignorant, grossly incompetent liar.