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Mask Use and the Science Behind It

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by John Austin in Behavior change, Leadership, Safety

I was at the beach last month, just coming out of a public bathroom with people standing around it, when a man approached and aggressively started asking why I was wearing a mask.

I wasn’t quite sure where this was going, and with people getting knifed and shot over this, I was a little worried.

He kept saying to me “you’re on vacation, why would you wear a mask?” and “no one is sick here, you don’t have to wear masks”…all in a super aggressive tone.

First, I said it was the law in crowded places to wear a mask (in my home state of Michigan it is mandated for indoor public places). That infuriated him, so I tried something different next.

I asked why he cared whether I wore a mask, and how this could possibly impact him? That confused him and he stormed off.

Even in these times of covid crisis fatigue, let’s not forget that 40-50% of infections are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

If you’re still not convinced whether masks stop particles from being sent into the air, here’s a great video from May, and although not peer reviewed, it was published in the New England Journal of Meddicine.

It’s likely that you’ve seen other similar demonstrations showing the value of mask use, but like most things in life, there is still data out there not being widely communicated.  Being a bit of a geek about this, I wanted to share some with you that I think you’ll find interesting and useful…

For instance…let’s take mask use. In the US, the CDC started out early this year by saying that mask use was ineffective against viruses (not true).

Then we heard that we should wear a mask for others in case we’re infected and asymptomatic. In this case, the mask is not for us because it does not stop virus at 0.1 micron from entering your mouth or nose (ALSO not true).

There’s pretty good data actually, and even a randomized controlled trial (the gold standard in most scientific areas), that wearing a mask makes you much less likely (50% less in one RCT study) to contract a virus like the flu and CAN filter Covid-sized particles.

There are a number of studies showing that cloth masks can filter out 50% of COVID-sized particles, and surgical masks can filter out 80% of COVID-sized particles (nearly as good as an N-95 mask).

These results are convincing enough for me to switch over to using surgical masks rather than cloth masks, but remember that most experts agree that any mask is better than no mask.

Want to read more and see the data (if you’re a geek like me…)?

Go here, these guys do a great job of making the science easy to understand.

It’s important that we continue to have these difficult conversations, maintain our respect for each other, and allow others to maintain their dignity while also practicing safe behaviors. It’s the only way we’ll become better leaders.

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