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Wearing masks, do they help?

Masks Where Do We Stand on this Subject?

The issues surrounding COVID-19 from personal protection and our loved ones, to the resulting hit on the economy due to movement control orders, is very emotive and has opinions very polarised.

I left the UK in 2016 and moved to Malaysia with my family but still keep reasonably informed with the UK news, even though this has been incredibly frustrating lately with Brexit and now the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

My friend David in the UK has been keeping abreast of this issues both from a personal concern as he looks after his aging mother but also out of a frustration of how this has been handled in the UK.

So in a departure to my usual ramblings I thought it would be good to hear from David being on the ground in the UK on the issue of masks and the misinformation spread around the impact of wearing them.

Asian Woman wearing a mask

Should we be wearing masks?

Recently several epidemiologists & other scientists have been saying, there’s no evidence to say wearing masks make a difference in outside settings.

Here’s an explanation of why they are wrong and why everyone should wear a mask & why we should have done this from the start!

Let’s analyse the statement “There’s no evidence to support wearing masks outside”.

Evidence for wearing masks

Correct there is no overwhelming evidence, so the question is why not, there’s evidence to say that in a medical setting you should, what’s the difference between outside and a medical setting? And importantly just because there is no evidence does this mean there isn’t any!

To start with let’s remember that many scientists live their lives trying to make a contained room surrounded in Perspex and where they can look in and they look for something that is statistically significant i.e. did you enough happen or not happen to prove their hypothesis.

A hypothesis can fail for a number of reasons there wasn’t enough data, the data contradicted what they were saying or significantly in our case the test they were using wasn’t good enough or fine enough to pick up what they were looking for.

This is very relevant in the context of wearing masks!

Why R0 is so important

At the start of the pandemic in the UK when the R0 was roughly 3 and we had a doubling rate every 3 days this meant that 1 infected person would infected 2,187 people 21 days later and by day 30 the end of the month 59,000 people!

Yes let that sink in, it’s a very big number and to put this into context using the UK’s very flawed stats that’s ~ 590 people in hospital and don’t forget only serious or critical patients were admitted!

The UK has since stopped posting their survival stats because they were so poor but in March if you went into hospital as critical it was 80% mortality Flippin’ heck 472 dead.

Taking the stats further as it stands that’s also 1 dead health worker, AGAIN flippin’ heck.

What do R0 values mean?

  • R0 is less than 1 – each existing infection causes less than one new infection. In this case, the disease will decline and eventually die out.
  • If R0 equals 1 – each existing infection causes one new infection. The disease will stay alive and stable, but there won’t be an outbreak or an epidemic.
  • If R0 is more than 1 – each existing infection causes more than one new infection. The disease will be transmitted between people, and there may be an outbreak or epidemic.

Source: Healthline

Now let’s analyse that statement again, “there is no evidence that wearing masks outside helps”. Keep in mind what I said previously 1 person responsible for 472 dead and 1 health worker.

As I said at the start sometimes your test just won’t be good enough to give you a statistically significant figure and this is the case for wearing masks, just 1 person 472 dead later!

I should remind everyone that as the R0 number changes so too does the number of infected, R0 won’t stay at 3 nor will the doubling rate. It is the whole point of isolating which is to drop the infection rate to a point where people no longer get infected. But the point stands in the same way as we wear seat belts in a car we should wear masks!

Where masks are concerned we should also know that that there are many different types of mask, which have different purposes, surgical masks for instance are designed to stop health workers from infecting patients let’s call this OUTGOING and then you have a different type of mask which is designed to stop very small particulates (A Virus is a very small particle) from being breathed in INCOMING in the US they Call them N95/N99 and in the EU FFP2/FFP3 masks & respirators.

All of these will decrease ejection matter if you cough or sneeze. But only the N95/FFP3 masks give decent protection for breathing in the virus.

I’ve been wearing my respirator since March because I have a 90 year old that most probably wouldn’t survive an infection

You also most probably have heard on the news that Government, Medics & Scientists say that they’re not that keen for people to wear FFP3 masks and that is because you’re stopping healthcare workers from having them.

COVID-19 Average infection rate

Source: Business Insider

Debunking the myth of mask shortage

Let now explain why this is wrong.

The FFP3 masks us normal folk buy are in the public domain, ie they’re in a in shop online or a physical shop.

I personally wear a respirator which cost me about £25 – Health workers typically don’t use respirators they use the disposable masks, in Jan you could buy a Pack of FFP3 masks for about £10 and In China I bought 5 for £3. Now it’s about £5 – £10 a mask. That’s quite a big mark up but it’s normal simple supply and demand economics. But now know the NHS simply isn’t going to buy these masks, so you’re not denying anyone anything.

If the NHS was going to buy them up they’d have already bought all stocks.

Reducing infections

Again I’ll go back to the fact that every infection you reduce is a net benefit. One infection in March was 59,000, 30 days later.

Now imagine all those people on packed trains busses and tubes in London & how many people might still be alive now if they had!

I’ve been wearing my respirator since March because I have a 90 year old that most probably wouldn’t survive an infection and this is also something everyone should remember, you don’t wear a mask just for yourself!

You are wearing a mask for everyone around you, for your Nana, your mum, your dad, sister, brother, friends, family, everyone you have loved and will love.

It’s NOT Just About YOU, it’s about everyone!

When you go out wearing a mask, you are showing you care for everyone!

David respirator

Thank you David for writing this article and letting me post this here. You can reach out to him directly via LinkedIn here.

What are your thoughts about wearing masks? Please write your comments below.

Adam Author

About the LifeHacker Guy

Hi, I'm Adam the founder of the LifeHacker Guy.

I have a First Class Honours degree in Sports Science from Brighton University, specialising in exercise physiology and nutrition. In my youth I was a competitive Triathlete and long-distance runner placing top 10 in most triathlon races I completed.

Since suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I moved into web development, after a couple of years I then moved onto developing a number of online businesses. I've recently taken a sabbatical and I'm now looking to make big changes in my life, hopefully this may resonate with you - join me in my journey!

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