The U.S. government recommended against wearing masks, all the while working to address a massive shortage of masks in hospitals. Masks either protect against the virus or they don’t, right?
Sure, there’s more risk of aerosolized spread in hospital environments with lots of coronavirus patients and where patients may be getting intubated. But the government’s stance on masks let the government get out ahead of consumers in purchasing them. A huge stockpile of N95 masks went to the TSA.
We know now, or at least the latest science leads us to believe, that masks really can make a difference controlling spread of SARS-CoV-2. For instance,
- British researchers recently found that everyone wearing 50% effective masks is enough to slow the spread of the virus (homemade masks are probably more than 50% effective).
- A German study found masks reduce the growth rate of infections by 40%.
- And use of quality masks by half the population does the same thing. Wearing masks also encourages social distancing based on a study out of Italy – seeing the masks reminds us to stay away.
Today the Department of Transportation announced they’re distributing 100 million cloth masks “to the aviation, transit, and passenger rail transportation sectors for passenger use.”
- 86.8 million coverings to airports
- 9.6 million to 458 different local transit agencies and to Amtrak
According to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao free masks for travelers “will help boost public confidence” in travel. The masks were purchased by FEMA and will be shipped via the U.S. Postal Service, so that every agency gets their piece of the business.
Is the problem we face a lack of below-hospital grade masks? Or that people just forget, and don’t take airlines up on their offers of free masks? Will federal government free mask programs be what triggers widespread adoption in the U.S.?