Who was that masked man?

To mask or not to mask. That is…repeatedly…the question. (Important note: this post doesn’t contain any health recommendations – it’s a discussion about how we discuss things.)

My parents called tonight (that’s now a few nights ago). It was very nice to talk to them. (Hi mom and dad.) Can you guess what we talked about? Yep, we talked about the coronavirus, and it was pretty interesting. Let’s get the obvious out of the way – this is some weird shit, and it’s scary and heart-breaking. With that acknowledged, it’s also fascinating. Public policy, statistics, epidemiology.

Obviously, I wish it weren’t the case, but since it is – we’re all following along as some of the world’s greatest scientists and medical professionals try to help us navigate some scary shit. I’ve said shit twice (now thrice) in this post, which is veering towards a gratuitous use of profanity. I’ll dial it back, but I can’t guarantee there won’t be an f-bomb.

If you were around for SARS, Ebola, or MERS, this isn’t your first big international virus rodeo. And if you watched Contagion pre-COVID, any mention of virus and wet markets was enough to keep you up at night.

Every time the inevitable debate starts – should people wear masks. The stories and the discussions about the issue are uniformly maddening. Not because the debate isn’t important or legitimate. It is. But we dumb everything down to levels where it’s impossible to make informed decisions. It also feels like the people in positions of authority think we’re idiots.

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I don’t want to pick on the U.S. Surgeon General, but that’s a bad tweet. Why? Find the nearest TV watching grade schooler. After you’re pretty sure they’ve seen a COVID story or two on TV or online, try a little experiment. Tell him or her that masks aren’t effective against the coronavirus.

Prediction: “Then why do the doctors and nurses wear them and need them?”

I know what you’re thinking – that’s not what the Surgeon General was saying, at least not exactly. I agree, but that’s how it comes across, especially in a tweet. I didn’t watch the following video (this is just a screenshot), but I imagine it went into a lot more depth about the issue. I hope so, because that’s what we need.

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Quick, tell me everything you know about masks. Are there lots of different types of masks? Are some rated for protection against different sizes or types of microbes? Are they reusable? Disposable? Is the point to protect against germs coming at you or germs you might put out into the world? Both?

It looks like the discussions about masks are getting better. That’s a good thing. I don’t know anything about masks. It sounds like the guidance might change soon, from that of masks not being necessary to masks being recommended or mandated in public (update – yep, the guidance has changed). If I start wearing a mask, I want to do some research to make sure I’ve chosen the best mask and that I’m wearing/handling the mask correctly (not that it’s possible to find masks right now). I don’t want a false sense of security, and I don’t want to increase my risks. For example, if I wear a mask in public, should I dispose of it before entering my apartment? Can I sterilize or disinfect the mask? How should I store the mask? Am I inadvertently adjusting the mask – touching my face – when I’m wearing it?

I wonder if this will be the last instance of the “to mask or not to mask” debate.

Hope everyone’s doing well.