Paul F. deLespinasse: Wearing mask protects others from the virus
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Paul F. deLespinasse: Wearing mask protects others from the virus

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President Trump opined recently that people wear masks to indicate hostility to him.

But arguments for wearing masks are equally applicable to Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, men and women. They are based on scientific findings and common sense, neither of which is monopolized by any political faction.

It's bad enough when politicians declare war on scientific findings about global warming because they conflict with a politically influential coal industry. Uncontrolled global warming will kill us off only in the medium run, not the short run.

But COVID-19 has been killing a lot of us in the short run and will continue doing this unless we act rationally. Acting rationally will require wearing masks whenever we are near other people, and especially when in crowds, whether the crowd be for a political protest, a political rally, or a church service.

Scientific findings are changed when new evidence emerges.

But the original recommendation not to wear masks was not based on evidence that mask-wearing provides no protection against COVID-19. It was based on evidence that masks do provide protection, that there weren't enough masks for everyone, and that it was most important to reserve available masks to protect people treating patients with the new disease.

Mask production has now zoomed. The original advice is now out of date.

A friend, Chunheui Chi, is a professor at Oregon State University and a widely respected public health expert. Frequently consulted about COVID-19, he strongly recommends that everyone wear masks in public.

His point about everyone is important.

Unlike the specialized ones now used by medical personnel, a common mask provides us only modest protection when we wear it. But it is very effective at stopping any virus we emit into nearby air when we breathe out, cough, sneeze, sing, or even just speak.

Although we gain some protection by wearing a mask, our mask mainly protects other people in our vicinity. If they too are wearing masks, that is mainly what protects us.

Remember that COVID-19 is sneaky.

Infected people without symptoms can infect other people. If only people who know they are infected wear masks, infected individuals who aren't aware of it will continue infecting other people. As I said, our own mask gives us only modest protection, and our main protection comes from masks worn by other people.

Dr. Chi recently cited evidence suggesting how effective general mask-wearing can be:

"Two hair stylists in the same salon in Missouri were confirmed with COVID-19 infection. Local health officials ... identified 140 customers and coworkers who were in close contact with these two hair stylists. Miraculously, none were infected, despite the high level of contagiousness of this COVID-19. The reason for this 'miracle?' Every one of these 140 customers/coworkers, plus these two stylists were wearing facial masks."

Partisan politics has nothing to do with these facts. If we want to move personal and economic life back towards normal, and to do so before a vaccine is developed, we all should start wearing masks whenever it is appropriate.

It might not be necessary to make mask wearing a legal requirement, since social pressure to wear them might take care of the problem. But if social pressure can't do the job, laws (with appropriate exceptions) should be enacted.

True, they would reduce individual freedom, but laws always do that.

Laws limit my freedom to swing my fist but protect your nose from being hit.

Likewise, a law could limit my right not to wear a mask in order to protect your nose from COVID-19.

Someone on TV recently said he would rather die from COVID-19 than wear a mask.

That is certainly his privilege. But would he rather kill someone else than wear a mask?

Paul F. deLespinasse of Corvallis is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. His most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. This column originally appeared in NewsMax.

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