Masks and mask mandates, revisited
Political tribalism has poisoned the well, making reasonable, evidence-based discussion of masks more difficult than it should be.
Several years ago, before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, I went to the urgent care center with a rather nasty case of influenza. The doctor handed me a surgical mask when I left, asking me to wear the mask when I picked up my prescription. Furthermore, doctors and nurses have been wearing masks during surgeries for generations. So what are we to make of claims that masks do not work at all? Have all of the medical professionals been wrong for decades, well before mask mandates ever became an issue?
No, they were not wrong. The conclusion is that mask mandates in public places had little effect on the spread of COVID-19. A big reason for this is that most transmission of the disease takes place in the home. The precautions people might take in public are relaxed in the home, and are impractical if not impossible when the infected person is a child.
A large part of the problem is that some mask advocates went off the deep end. I have mentioned this before, but one university actually told people to wear a mask during sex. This will do nothing to stop the spread of a respiratory virus, obviously. It does illustrate that some people viewed the mask as religious iconography. Extremism on one side naturally leads to a backlash on the other, and produces resistance and conspiracy theories. You simply cannot separate the resistance to masks from the pro-mask extremism.
The other problem is masks have become a visible symbol. Masking or not masking is a signal of your political affiliation. Masks were an easy target when the real problem was unreasonable and unreasonably long "stay at home" orders and forced closing of businesses. Masks became a flashpoint for a society already frustrated by the economic, cultural and educational damage caused by closing businesses and schools, not to mention the increase in depression and the toll that poor mental health takes on one's physical health.
Yes, masks do work, on a limited scale and as one part of a larger pandemic mitigation strategy. This has been consensus for generations now. Where we went astray is when masks became a political flashpoint and people ran to opposite corners to show their tribal loyalties. Look at the data, think for yourself, and stop making everything about political tribalism.
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