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Will Masks go Down as a Debunked 'Wives Tale?'

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

Just a refresher; sitting too close to the TV will not make you go blind, pulling out a grey hair will not create two new grey hairs, white wine is not the best way to clean a red wine stain, nor will an apple a day keep the doctor away. Need a few more? No, chocolate does not cause acne, cracking your knuckles will not cause arthritis, nor will eating carrots improve your eyesight. Just one more; wearing a mask will not protect you from contracting coronavirus, according to the largest controlled scientific study to date.

Until September 2020, there was not a single substantial study regarding the efficacy of wearing a mask to prevent you and coronavirus from having a date. Not one. Even with the results finally tabulated, it took another month (November 2020) for the Danish researchers to find a medical publication willing to publish their findings. They had no idea that their results would become such a ‘hot’ potato. Finally, after demanding much of the summary be re-written not to offend the contemporary and only permitted narrative, the Annals of Internal Medicine found the courage (or a cooking mitt) and published the results. If the current rumblings from the bowels of Twitter is any clue, they’ll need more than a mitt for protection.

The study did not find that the wearing of masks has no purpose- ask any hospital surgery center manager. But, if you are wearing a mask to prevent getting the coronavirus, then the best research we have today, the Danish controlled trial of September 2020, suggests there is no benefit to you. If you are infected with the virus, then wearing a mask in public does provide some protection to those nearby. Of course, if you are contagious, the healthy prefer you stay home until you are better.

In some ways, that is unfortunate news. It would be grand if an apple would keep a doctor away, not that there is anything wrong with seeing a doctor or eating an apple. Suspending the eating of chocolate during an acne outbreak is not an end-of-life event. Wearing a mask to prevent something as contagious as coronavirus, a tad inconvenient for certain, but a small price compared to getting punched in the gut by COVID. But ‘wives tales’ perish in the light of research as viruses die in the infrared rays of the sun. But in a world where research and science have become so politicized, it is unlikely that mask will go away anytime soon.

As in every ‘wives tales,’ there is a history. Someone saw a beautiful red apple and claimed it so healthy; you’ll never be sick. The story spread. A 16-year-old ate three large Hershey chocolate bars the night before she awoke to a zit winking at her in the mirror. Scientific research of an anecdotal type. Her friends passed on the bit of research, and soon, it became as good as fact.

If I were to guess for money, I’d bet that many of these debunked ‘wives tales’ are oft-repeated- perhaps even believed and followed. Either due to the power of suggestion or because it just looks like it would be true, we adopt a belief system that appears to be incredibly hard to change.

So it is with the wearing of masks to protect us from coronavirus. It just looks like it should work. Place a shield in between our mouth and nose, and nary a bad thing can enter. That is an idea, a mental image, that even the thickest of us dimwits can understand. Like a dam to hold back the water, or a filter to clean oil, or a blindfold to keep from seeing, a piece of something, almost anything, will keep out what we don’t want in. As in the cliché, ‘seeing is believing,’ we believe because it just makes so damn much sense.

Recently, I had an occasion to ask a healthcare professional his opinion on the efficacy of wearing a mask. These folks are masters at finding just the right analogy, and he did not disappoint. “Imagine attempting to protect your backyard from mosquitoes using a chain-link fence. The masks most people wear in public is just as effective. Perhaps an N95 mask might offer a bit more protection, but I’ve not seen any studies suggesting that.” Unfortunately, I proved the dimwit I am when I blurted out, “But the image of the virus they show on TV looks so big- as big as a pimple. It’s got red and blue spikes and just floats around in the air like Sputnik and… and… and the CDC recommends it.”

Some say we’re in the second or third wave of this coronavirus pandemic. During the first wave, we navigated the experts’ expert opinions carefully. Social distancing- yes. The wearing of masks- no. Washing of hands- yes. The demand we stay indoors eventually morphed into outdoors was ok because scientists found that the sun and the virus don’t get along. When it looked like the hospitals were not actually going to sink, then masks became a thing. Then they became ‘every’ thing. Then some governors made it a mandatory thing. Soon people driving alone in cars and walking alone in parks were wearing masks. Gavin, the governor, says you can eat at a restaurant, but you must mask up between bites. Great news for anyone who happens to be a self-conscious chewer.

As the first wave ebbed, it appeared the wearing of masks saved our bacon. But then there came another wave, now another. The anecdotal evidence that the wearing of masks will prevent the transmission of the coronavirus suddenly grows shaky. The graphs are hard to ignore as the trend lines point up. Even politicians, who claim to ‘follow the science,’ were seen dining out with no masks on between bites or when arriving or departing.

When growing up, my youngest daughter would cross her eyes in faux disdain when told something she thought crazy or unbelievable or stupid. Because it would often be rewarded with a laugh or chuckle, it grew to become her signature facial expression. As her father and believer in most ‘ wives tales,’ I attempted to gently warn her that the frequent and prolonged crossing of the eyes could lead to a permanent condition called crosseyeditis (a term I made up). Naturally, she crossed her eyes to that bit of nonsense. I, too, must admit I did not believe that to be true but perhaps thought she might believe enough of it to curb her from always crossing her eyes.

My daughter taught me many things including that I should not be trusted as the source of all knowledge. If the wearing of a mask makes sense to you, please continue. If on the other hand, you run across someone who doesn’t, such as the medical professional I referred to earlier, then understand that they see it differently.

Ultimately, people will do what makes sense to them. We like our ‘wives tales.’

Thanks for reading! Love to hear what you think. Ron

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