Yes Masks Work, They're Still A Good Idea, Don't Be A Jerk
Photo: Anthony Quintano, July 2020. Creative Commons license 2.0

This column is brought to you courtesy of the "pro-life" person who harangued Rebecca about masks the other day, arguing that really, two percent of old people dying is no big deal, and also claiming, wrongly, that "masks and lockdowns saved zero people," and Yr Editrix is still piqued about it.

It's also brought to you by our vague awareness that Tucker Carlson said another stupid Tuesday night, claiming that maybe the reason Joe Biden wants people to keep wearing masks is that the vaccines really don't work after all, and not the more obvious fact that we still haven't vaccinated half of US adults yet, so the virus is still spreading, stupid Tucker. So let's just do a quick roundup that we're calling "Yes Masks Work, They're Still A Good Idea, Don't Be A Jerk."

Aussie Rules Maskball

For starters, let's look at this neat story from ABC — the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, not the US network — about new research that indicates that last year in Victoria, the state where Australia's not-capital of Melbourne lives, the combination of a mask mandate and a very strict lockdown pretty much shut down what was shaping up to be a second wave of infections. The researchers' computer modeling suggests that Victoria's mandatory mask order, which was widely complied with, was the biggest single factor in preventing the state's hospitals from being overwhelmed, and that when combined with the lockdown, quickly brought overall infection rates down sharply. Also, "Victoria's Mandatory Mask Order" is the single least sexy lingerie shop in Melbourne's District Docklands shopping mall.

The study, which is not yet peer-reviewed, so don't go dressing it in a little cap and gown yet, was done by epidemiologists and public health experts at Monash University and James Cook University.

Lead author James Trauer from Monash University's school of public health and preventative medicine said face masks were "probably the number one effect". [...]

"Prior to July 23rd, we saw that the effective reproduction number [that's the average number of new cases resulting from a single infected person — Dok] was still significantly above one, so that means that the epidemic will be going up.

"As the face covering policy came through, there was this real step change to the proportion of people using face coverings and that brought the effective reproduction number down below one."

Deborah Cromer, a senior research fellow at the Kirby Institute in New South Wales, said that controlling transmission by keeping people apart, by covering up their major face holes, or both, was key to stopping the outbreak.

"In Australia, in New Zealand we saw what was happening with the rest of the world — where they hoped and waited it hasn't worked so well.

"By going hard early it stops it taking hold and it becomes much easier for public health officials to control."

She said Melbourne was one of the only places in the world that effectively managed to "crush a second wave" of the disease.

"It wasn't until they put these measures into place that we saw that turn around in the number of new cases."

Trauer added that Melbourne made for a dramatic case study, because the mask mandate was declared while cases were steadily rising, and because the mandate saw wide, nearly instant compliance, with mask wearing going from 13 percent to 90 percent once it was mandated. And since wearing masks is such a simple thing to do for people who are not Americans glued to Fox News, he said it should be the first measure introduced during coronavirus outbreaks.

"If you can imagine a situation where you didn't mandate masks and … you continued on with life as previous, I think we would have had months of very, very high rates and thousands of deaths.

On the other hand, the pro-life guy on Twitter said the Australian and New Zealand experiences mean nothing in America, because those people over there were OK with "tyrannical rule" and happy to exchange their freedom for safety.

OK, But What If You've Been Vaccinated Huh?

Eve Peyser at New York magazine chatted with Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist with the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science, about why Joe Biden is still wearing a mask even though he's been fully vaccinated for a while now. Dr. Rasmussen said she wouldn't presume to know Biden's mind, but she said it makes sense for leaders to model healthy behavior, especially given that we aren't even halfway to full vaccination of the adult population in the US. So even though from a medical standpoint, the CDC data show that vaccines provide very good protection not just from illness, but also from infection, it still makes sense for vaccinated folks to keep masking up, if only for the sake of emphasizing the need for unvaccinated folks to take precautions:

Rather than having a two-tiered society in which vaccinated people, the minority of people, are able to start unmasking and living their lives, I think it's good practice for President Biden to continue wearing that mask and doing his part to model what people should be doing.

But when does Dr. Rasmussen think Biden will stop wearing his mask?

When the CDC makes a recommendation that if you're vaccinated, you can start going unmasked in public spaces, that's probably when I would imagine President Biden will also begin to go unmasked in public spaces because he's been vaccinated.

She also noted that when it comes to Republicans who say they'll never ever get vaccinated or wear masks, it almost doesn't matter whether Biden wears a mask or not — they made up their minds long ago. But for more persuadable non-jackholes, Biden's modeling good behavior is probably still a very good idea. Particularly since the previous guy was such a flaming example of what not to do.

Rasmussen also noted that the CDC has already made clear it's OK for vaccinated people to be with unvaccinated folks in home settings, as long as the unvaccinated people don't have other risk factors, and she thinks as more Americans are vaccinated, CDC guidelines will evolve.

For his part, Dr. Anthony Fauci says he's very comfortable socializing with his neighbors indoors, but it's going to be a good long while before he eats out at a restaurant or goes to a movie theater: "I don't think I would — even if I'm vaccinated — go into an indoor, crowded place where people are not wearing masks."

We're betting he wouldn't like hanging out with the pro-lifer guy much at all. Lots of respiratory droplets probably coming off that guy.

[ABC (the Australian one) / New York / WebMD/ Photo: Anthony Quintano, Creative Commons license 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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