Do fervent mask wearers imagine swarms of viruses waiting to invade their nostrils?

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and wife wearing face masks during Memorial Day services.

Everything becomes politicized these days, so it’s no surprise that the issue of wearing masks now has its political overtones.

In the early days of the pandemic, the use of masks was not recommended. Public health officials actually recommended against their use because most people do not know how to use masks properly and risked infection as a result.

Now, those self same officials are recommending masks and the media, ever faithful to authority, have turned the wearing of mask into a political statement.

And just as the wearing of masks has been politicized, the politics invariably revolve around US President Donald Trump.

Just this past Memorial weekend, the airwaves and newspaper pages were littered with images of Trump sans mask while his erstwhile Democratic opponent Joe Biden was pictured with his black face mask.

It was a striking contrast. Trump was being cast as a leader who flouted conventional wisdom, while his opponent was touted as someone who listened to the experts.

Here in Canada, former Environment Minister Catherine McKenna had herself photographed riding a bicycle wearing a mask no less.

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Toronto Mayor John Tory went to a city park to lecture young people about social distancing and wore a mask – incorrectly.

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Toronto Mayor John Tory

On talk shows, experts now routinely advise people to wear mask if they cannot practice social distancing.

A number of stores are considering, as well, requiring shoppers to wear masks.

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And if stores don’t have mask wearing policies, shoppers are quite willing to go after shoppers who are not wearing a mask.

I suspect in another week, people will be ordered to wear masks by their governments.

So do masks actually do anything?

Well, they do make it appear that you are socially responsible.

They also give the impression you are scared to death.

What does science have to say about mask wearing?

As you might expect, it’s a mixed bag of conclusions. In some cases, it offers some protection, but it’s not a lot.

Two studies done in the wake of the SARS pandemic in 2003, found that masks did not prevent nurses from becoming infected. (Here and here.)

Those were masks available to health professionals.

The ones I see most people wearing are the flimsy cloth masks that cannot begin to filter out microscopic viruses.

So I fail to see how they would help much.

Ironically, that’s the very reason why health officials didn’t recommend masks in the first place. As they explained in the good old days of the pandemic, the risk comes when you touch the mask. How is it removed? How is it discarded? Did you wash your hands after taking it off?

You get the point.

But we are in the grips of a hysteria the likes of which none of us have ever witnessed. Not even the bed wetting over global warming comes close.

So many people are convinced that this virus is some sort of biblical plague that will kill them if they step out on the street.

It’s the reason people wear masks when walking in a park, when riding their bicycles, when driving alone in the cars.

I imagine they picture a swarm of viruses floating about in the air waiting to invade their nostrils.

While fear is a perfectly understandable reaction, we need to get a grip.

As viruses go, the COVID19 or SARS-CoV-2 virus is far less deadly that we’ve seen in the past.

The 1957-58 Asian flu pandemic had a death rate of 660 per million, twice that of the current pandemic.

What’s more it’s pretty clear now, months into the pandemic, that a large swath of the populace has an immunity to this SARS virus likely because of past exposure to coronaviruses that give rise to the common cold.

The COVID19 virus is not the end of the world and we need to stop treating it as if it were.

Let’s concentrate on protecting the elderly in care facilities, where the VAST majority of deaths are occurring and get back our lives.

We need to learn how to control our irrational fears. We are adults, not children.


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