The simplest approach that could possibly work (in the short term)

Everybody should wear masks pretty much all the time, for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. This is by far the most important thing.

The virus is respiratory. It has to be transported out of one person’s respiratory system and into another person’s respiratory system. The keys are breath and spit on side, mouth, nose, and lungs on the other. The mantra is respiration.

There are endless pathways for the virus. But almost all travel outbound from the mouth and nose and arrive into the mouth and nose. We cannot block all the other paths at sufficient depth and at a global scale. But we can block off the mouths and noses.

Masks are not perfect, of course. Of course. I’m not unaware and I’m not ignoring this. But masks do make a big difference.

Take this article:

It’s advocating against masks in a way that seems authoritative but is really fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Be afraid of FUD. You can never be sure about FUD. I’m skeptical about the value of FUD.

Maybe masks won’t work, but maybe they will. We have lots to gain and little to lose.

Virologists don’t seem to think masks will protect people from airborne viruses, mostly because there’s no evidence to prove they’re effective. William Schaffner, a professor in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told NPR, “There really are no good, solid, reliable data.”

Science is good, but it’s absence is not a good argument to abandon common sense. Spit is the vector. Masks stop 90+% of spit from traveling.

Masks are often ill-fitting or too loose over the face, offer no real filter and leave eyes exposed. Since most viruses are airborne, this offers little protection. It

Entering via the eyes presents a long and difficult pathway to the respiratory system. Nose and mouth are where the air comes in.

“Ill-fitting or too loose” is half-assed science, suitable for half-ass science in response: virus particles aren’t determined secret agents trying to worm their way in. When stuff is in the way they get stuck like anything else. If some make it past, that probably doesn’t negate the benefit of stopping the rest. Perfection is the enemy of the good. Good is good.

It’s also fairly impractical to wear a mask for prolonged periods of time, so any potential benefits may be negated by the difficulty of use.

Let’s make masks that we can wear more. Let’s work on our habits. This is an approachable problem which we can tackle from the ground up.

While masks may offer an additional line of defense against certain illnesses, most experts agree the best way to prevent infection is good, old-fashioned handwashing.

Handwashing is a backline in defense in depth. There is spit in the air. It settles on a surface. You touch it. It gets onto your hands. You touch your face. The infection somehow makes its way to your mouth or nose. It goes down the windpipe instead of the esophagus. Ok, yes, this is a valid defense, but its weak as hell. Airborne breath and spit are the main attackers.

While masks may not be effective in protecting against airborne viruses, many experts believe they’re helpful in protecting against hand-to-mouth transmissions. That means they’ll protect against splashes from others’ coughs or sneezes. Masks will also likely reduce the chances of spreading infection from your hands coming in contact with your nose or mouth. According to the BBC, a New South Wales study conducted in 2016 showed that people touched their faces approximately 23 times per hour.

This is precisely my point.

Let’s consider the worst possible masks, a handkerchief tied over the face. The virus is much smaller than the gaps in the surface of the cloth and can easily pass through. Even so, if someone wearing a handkerchief sneezes, most of the liquid and vapor is caught. You can tell because the cloth becomes moist. Some corona escapes, but most stays put. On the receiving end of the sneeze, most of the virus lands on surfaces rather than being inhaled while airborne, and a person who gets corona on their hands can’t pick their nose, thereby inserting the virus into their respiratory system. They can’t put their finger inside their mouth. They can’t touch the skin of their face, and if they do touch their mask then they can put on a new mask more easily than they can wash their face with soap. And even the worst mask will catch some airborne particles.

There is a mask shortage, but that is an easy problem to solve. Very very easy. And in the meantime handkerchiefs are an improvement.

This is a method that can be done on a global scale. It is not feasible to have eight billion people stay home. They have to go out to make a living. Many have no home, or their home is too crowded to be safe. It is not feasible to stop touching our own faces – that is not going to happen.

Jails can do this: every inmate should wear a mask whenever they are awake. Daycares can do it: every kid can wear a mask all day. People on crowded buses can do it.

Just masks masks masks. Masks masks masks. Masks masks masks masks masks masks. Masks.

But is it possible? I don’t want to wear a mask while sitting alone at my desk, in my private workroom with the door closed. As simple as this is, can we do it?

What we can do to get started is sewing and evangelism. Let’s sew masks. Let’s have mask events where every person – including kids – is wearing a mask. Let’s post our cool personalized masks to Instagram.

2 thoughts on “The simplest approach that could possibly work (in the short term)

    1. I’ve seen wildy different answers to how long it lives on surfaces, from 3 hours to 9 days. But, the general issue is still true. It’s much harder to transmit the virus via touch than breath, so breath is the most important line of defense.

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