The coronavirus has uprooted life in the United States like no other single cause in recent memory. Serious conflicts have arisen among our people as to when and how to return to work, school, and routine living. A common thread running through these conflicts is when or whether we should wear masks. Strangely enough, the answer to that question may well determine the outcome of the presidential election in November.
Although the issue of mask wearing was uncertain at the start of the pandemic, epidemiologists have learned that “airborne transmission ‘plays a major role’ in spreading the virus.” That is, exhaled breath from an infected person can infect other people in the vicinity. It’s like this. We can tell when someone breathes alcohol or garlic at us, because we are inhaling microscopic particles of those substances that the person has exhaled. Same with virus-laden exhalations. That is why it is necessary for people to mask up when they are within 6 feet of others. It largely protects others from being infected and offers some protection for the mask wearer.
A study published by the National Academy of Sciences found face masks to be “the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission” of the virus. Another recent study showed that a population could have one twelfth of the number of infections if 80% of the people wore masks.
We don’t actually need scientific studies to prove the point. Just looking at countries where significant percentages of the people wear masks tells the tale. Most of the European and Asian countries, where mask wearers prevail, have teeny-tiny infection numbers compared to the U.S. For instance, Japan, where 77% of the people always wear masks when leaving the house, reported 1,344 Covid-19 infections and 7 deaths on August 9. Italy, with 83% always masked, reported 347 infections and 13 deaths. The U.S., with only 59% always masked and 14% never masked, reported 61,028 Covid-19 infections and 1,324 deaths. Masks work!
For a variety of reasons, many Americans simply refuse to wear masks in spite of the scientific consensus that they are critical to reducing the spread of the virus. Many of the anti-maskers are Trump supporters. It is an ironic twist that those who support Trump’s reelection and refuse to wear masks may actually contribute to a Biden victory in November.
Here is how that works. The economy won’t get back on track and many parents won’t let their kids return to in-person classes until the pandemic is brought under some semblance of control. The virus will not be brought under control until most people in the country observe social distancing and mask wearing. Unless a majority of the anti-maskers have an abrupt change of heart, the virus will not be abated by election day.
In sum, by election day the virus will still be spreading in a number of states, due in significant part to the failure of people to observe protective measures. As a result, the economy will still be a basket case, schools will not be able to fully reopen, unemployment will remain historically high and the country will be looking for a change of direction. That change will be Joe Biden. Unfortunately, thousands of additional Americans will have needlessly died by election day from having to breathe in unfiltered, virus-laden air exhaled by people who refused to mask up.