Help Stop COVID-19… wear a mask!

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Please wear a mask and advocate for everyone to use face masks (non-medical) when in public. 

It looks like the best way we can immediately have a significant impact to slow COVID-19 is to wear face masks when in public. The information from Taiwan and South Korea shows that the use of face masks (not the surgical ones) is a big part of stopping the spread of COVID-19. Our Surgeon General shows how to make one with a scarf and a couple of rubber bands, so this is something we all can do now for no cost.  

Video: Surgeon General demonstrates how to make a mask at home.

Of course, also wash your mask(s) frequently.

The masks work by trapping the small moisture droplets from breathing, speaking, coughing, or sneezing. An infected person wearing the face mask will no longer put these infected droplets into the air, which protects others. Since people do not know that they are infected when they are spreading the virus, everyone should assume they are infected and wear the mask. 

Although we know that wearing this mask does not give a non-infected person 100% protection from the virus, I suspect that moisture droplets in the air have a hard time getting in through the fabric, just like how a mask stops the droplets from getting out. An uninfected person should get at least a lower viral load if they are exposed, which should give the person’s immune system more time to respond to the virus. Over time we will know more about how populations wearing masks are having much better outcomes. Still, for now, the widespread use of the mask is a practically zero cost, potentially quick to implement, and not very painful way of helping to stop the explosive growth of the virus in the US.  

Given that:

  1. We cannot yet quickly test much or all our population (and multiple times) for either the virus or antibody, and it will take some time to develop this capability. Widespread and aggressive testing is the only way of knowing the actual impact of the virus and how to respond effectively with finesse. 
  2. We do not have sufficient medical staff, supplies, equipment, or facilities to handle the exponential growth of severe cases.
  3. Our “western-style” “shelter-in-place” mandates and recommendations are not sufficiently stringent to quickly stop the spread, as we see in Italy and other countries.
  4. Taiwan shows that widespread use of face masks can help not only stop the exponential growth of the virus without shelter-in-place orders (they have five deaths and less than 400 cases in a country of 20 million) but also bring the cases down to a manageable level. John Hopkins predicted that Taiwan would have the second-highest number of cases with close connections with China. Instead, Taiwan has one of if not the best outcome.
  5. The US has a particularly sick population, which makes us more susceptible to deadly outcomes than may be seen in other countries.
  6. In the US, it took one month (March) to go from 0 to 4000 deaths, and then four days for the next 4000 deaths. The US will easily go into the hundreds of thousands of deaths this month of April without something drastic. The social-distancing and shelter-in-place mandates and recommendations have had some impacts. Without such results, the growth rate of the first-month average doubling of deaths about every 2.5 days would lead to 17 million deaths in April. The actual number of deaths would be somewhat lower from several factors, but the deaths would be in the millions. The distancing and sheltering methods have slowed the doubling rate to at least four days, which was the rate of the first four days of April. That rate continued over April would be a 181 times increase or from 4,000 to 724,000 deaths. But the full effect of the distancing and sheltering methods are not yet realized. There is about a 2 to 3-week delay in impact on fatalities. If we average a 6-day doubling rate in April, we will be at 32 times or 128,000 deaths and then in the millions the next month if that rate continues. We need to do everything we can to slow the doubling to 10 days (8 times growth in a month), 15 days (4 times increase in a month), 30 days (2 times growth in a month), or more. And the faster and more aggressively we hit the brakes, the multipliers down the road result in far fewer deaths and impacts on our lives and economy.
  7. Stopping the explosive growth of the virus means we will need a lot less medical staff, supplies, equipment, and facilities than we will require otherwise.
  8. With time we can get what we need medically, develop testing capacity, fix the supply chain, and establish effective national coordination.


If we can get widespread use of face masks now, we expect to see substantial additional decreases in the cases and deaths in two to three weeks.

Wearing face masks is the least imposing and yet drastic measure we absolutely can do to change our course. It will help us get back to work and amongst our friends quicker and lesson the economic impacts on ourselves, families, and country.

Help save lives and provide the US time to respond to COVID-19 by spreading this message as quickly and widely as possible. Even without leadership from Trump, we can save ourselves.

by Karl Smith

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