Wearing masks to protect others | Guest column

By Jim Corenman, San Juan Island

I was disappointed to see the letter from Tim Price criticizing those who choose to wear a mask in public places. Please don’t misunderstand, I am all in favor of folks expressing their opinions, everyone has one. But ridiculing others based on false information, and potentially putting lives in danger— however small that risk— crosses a line. The Journal should not be a forum for incorrect and potentially harmful information.

We need to first make a distinction that Tim does not: Medical masks (N95 and the like) are in short supply which needs to go first to medical staff and first responders. But those are not the masks that King’s, Market Place, Tim, or anyone else are talking about. This conversation is about casual masks, simple cloth face coverings whether home-made or store-bought.

WHO has not recommended against wearing these sorts of casual masks. They won’t stop all possible transmission but will help. WHO leaves that recommendation to national/local authorities to decide. CDC, Washington DOH, San Juan County all recommend covering your face to help reduce transmission.

The reasons for the recommendation are simple: it helps. This is not about stopping the virus 100%, good luck with that. To beat this thing, we need to slow the spread. To make it go away, the reproduction rate needs to be less than 1:1. If each new sick person infects two others, it grows exponentially and we all get sick. If only half the new sick folks infect others, then it fades away. It is all about reducing the chance of infecting others, or getting infected ourselves. A mask of any sort will help.

This virus is transmitted either by respiratory droplets, either directly within 1-2 meters, or via surface contamination and contact. Or in some situations by an aerosol “fog” which can carry the virus and remain in the air for some time. A simple cloth mask won’t stop the aerosol-transmitted virus, but it will stop most of the droplets. And any face covering will stop you from turning a door-handle and then touching your nose or mouth. Which is all very helpful to reduce the spread.

So why does Tim’s letter bother me so much? Because his facts are wrong, and using words like “illusion”, “ostracize”, and “ignorance, insecurity and self-righteousness” to describe fellow islanders is just plain offensive. We need to work together, folks. I applaud the efforts of Kings, Market Place, and others, and every one covering their faces, for doing their part to help reduce the spread of this think. Thank you!

More light reading: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/dont-wear-mask-yourself/610336/