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It’s World Mask Week, Here Are 10 Misconceptions About Face Coverings

Yesterday was “National Sneak Some Zucchini Into Your Neighbor’s Porch Day.” It was also the second day of World Mask Week, which started on August 7 and will last through August 14. One of these is a little more important than the other when it comes to dealing with ongoing Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Sorry, zucchini lovers. But face masks squash zucchini in this case. With no vaccine and no proven specific treatment for the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2), our society is left with NPIs to prevent the transmission of the virus that has already killed at least 722,303 people around the world and 161,682 people in the U.S. alone, as of Saturday. In this case, NPI stands for non-pharmaceutical interventions rather than no pun intended or Neil Patrick interventions. These include social distancing, hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfection, and wearing face masks or coverings.

Yet, not everyone is doing these things. In fact, some people are trying to tell you not to wear masks or spreading myths about masks and face coverings. That’s why the Pandemic Action Network, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CDC Foundation, Africa CDC, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Facebook, Google, Global Citizen and over 40 other partners have team together to organize World Mask Week. The purpose if to encourage the use of face coverings in public. That includes running social media campaigns such as the #WearAMask challenge that asks people to share mask photos and videos:

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Ultimately, one of the goals is to counter a lot of myths that have circulating about masks. Here are 10 common ones: 

1. Masks don’t work.

Ah, but they do. The science is fairly straightforward. When you are infected and infectious with the virus, viruses can come out of your nose and mouth. Which then would reduce your chances of infecting someone else: not having versus having something cover your nose and mouth? As I covered before for Forbes, studies have shown how face coverings can block droplets coming out of your nose and mouth while you are speaking.

“Even if transmission occurs, studies have suggested that the disease will be more mild if the person who transmitted the virus to you was wearing a mask,” added Ali Nouri, PhD, President of the FAS. “So masks can reduce the amount of the virus that is transmitted to you, which can make a difference.” Here’s a tweet thread from Nouri on the subject:

“This is a critical time for World Mask Week,” explained Judy Monroe, MD, President and CEO of the CDC Foundation. “We need to inspire people. We’re in a situation where there is more and more science behind face coverings. Now that we have the science, face coverings are one of the best tools that we have.”

2. You don’t have to wear a face covering if you don’t feel sick or are regularly tested for Covid-19.

As I have written before for Forbes, a significant percentage of people who are contagious don’t have symptoms. Moreover, unless you are testing yourself for the virus every minute (which would be a lot of cotton swabs up your nose) and getting back the results immediately, you can’t tell exactly when you may have become contagious.

3. Wearing a face covering will prevent you from getting enough oxygen, result in carbon dioxide poisoning, or weaken your immune system.

Victoria Forster, PhD, has covered these misconceptions for Forbes not just once, not just twice, but three times already. If wearing face masks were so dangerous then why aren’t you seeing surgeons and other medical professionals who routinely wear face masks passing out or having all sorts of problems? Nina Shapiro, MD, has re-emphasized for Forbes that face masks are not toxic, although she did add that you should be careful about babies under two years of age (that’s physical age-wise. An adult behaving like he or she is under two years of age should still wear a face mask while in public and close to others.)

4. Face coverings are not cool, masculine, brave, heroic, or fill-in-adjective-on-how-you-want-to-be-perceived.

If you are relying simply on showing your nose and your mouth to appear heroic or cool, you’ve got bigger issues. Cool is subjective. For example, are man buns cool? (The kind that’s on the head and not the bottom.) Well, that depends on the decade that you are in, who happens to be wearing it in what form, and what you happen to think about man buns. Part of the goal of World Mask Week is to show that you can very easily be cool and wear a face covering. For example, as part of the #PlayApartTogether initiative, the gaming industry will be integrating World Mask Week messages and images into its games. iHeartMedia will be taking similar steps with their programming as well. Ultimately, wearing is more about caring (for other people, that is), which incidentally is a new Twitter handle adopted by a group from Columbia University:

5. Face coverings are somehow related to child-traffickers.

Take any Jeopardy! category and it seems like someone will be able to insert “child-trafficking” into it. As E.J. Dickson reported for Rolling Stone, a social media post that went viral stated, “How will a perpetrator or missing child be identified if you don’t know what he or she looks like?” And the following Instagram post seemed to try to connect the “global elite and their fetish for children” with mask-wearing:

Huh? Yes, child-trafficking is a terrible problem. Yes, it needs to be addressed. But what exactly do face mask recommendations from public health experts have to do with child-trafficking? If they were somehow connected, then why would public health experts at the same time recommend social distancing, which in theory could make child-trafficking more difficult to do?

6. Different “experts” are saying different things about face masks.

Not really. When it comes to scientific experts, there is no “mask debate,” so to speak. (By the way, as the Last Week Tonight with John Oliver show has warned, be very careful with how you say those words.) Scientific experts are not “mask debating.”

What you may be hearing are people posing as experts. Joan Cusack once said in the movie Working Girl, “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.” Similarly, just because you appear on TV, have some type of advisor title, or have a Facebook account, doesn’t mean that you are a scientist or public health expert. The key these days is to sift through the noise coming from various politicians and others with political agendas to hear what the real experts are saying. Among real experts, there has been one evolution in the face mask recommendation as Nouri explained: “At the beginning of the pandemic, there were overwhelming concerns that there weren’t enough surgical masks and medical grade masks so that these ought to be reserved for health care workers. But now that more different types of face coverings are available, that recommendation has changed. The road to re-opening the economy goes through masking.” 

“There is a need for a consistent and strong message,” emphasized Monroe. “Face coverings are for the safety and protection of every human being. People need to wear masks.”

7. Masks are being used to control people.

There are people actually claiming that face coverings are being used to control people. For example:

These are face coverings. They aren’t tracking where you are going, what you are buying, or what you are watching. They aren’t telling you what to think. There are plenty of other things and people that are trying to do that. In fact, covering your face may make you a little less identifiable if you happen to be worried about face recognition software. And, no, there’s no evidence supporting the claim that the bendy metal strip in surgical masks are actually 5G antennas as I covered previously for Forbes.

8. Wearing a face covering means that you don’t have to practice social distancing.

While a face covering may protect others from you and potentially you to some degree, it can not and should not replace social distancing. Viruses still can get through face coverings that are not N95 masks. Even N95 masks aren’t always perfect. Nothing besides avocados are perfect. Social distancing is still the most important thing to do right now. Even if you are wearing a face mask, try to stay at least one Denzel (Denzel Washington is about six feet tall) away from everyone else at all times.

9. Requiring masks violates your Constitutional rights.

Some have been claiming that requiring face coverings violates Constitutional rights as seen in the Today show video:

Why hasn’t been the same uproar about the “No shirts, no shoes, no service” rules that have long been in place or that ridiculous requirement to wear clothes while out in public? Well, John E. Finn, a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Government at Wesleyan University, where he taught courses in constitutional theory and public law, wrote for The Conversation that the “The Constitution doesn’t have a problem with mask mandates.” He went on to explain that a mask doesn’t violate the First Amendment by keeping you from expressing yourself. If you can’t talk while wearing a face covering, the face covering is on way too tight. Finn also explained how “the 1905 case of Jacobsen v. Massachusetts shows why mask mandates don’t violate any constitutional right to privacy or health or bodily integrity. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld a smallpox vaccination requirement in Cambridge, Massachusetts.”

10. Wearing or not wearing a face covering is a political statement.

Wearing or not wearing a face covering is not the same as wearing a pin or a baseball cap with political slogans on them. There shouldn’t be any “wear face covering” or “don’t wear face covering” party. Just like there isn’t a “wear underwear” party versus a “always go Commando” party. Monroe said that the “popularity of wearing mask has been increasing.” She mentioned a recent Gallup poll that showed that 86% of U.S. adults have worn a mask in public over the past week. That means that it’s highly likely that people of different political affiliations, perspectives, and leanings are donning face coverings.

Nevertheless, there are still many people not wearing face coverings while out in public and close to other people.

You can still sneak some zucchini into a neighbor’s porch. Just make sure that you maintain social distancing (stay on Denzel apart from other people) at all times. Keep everything hygienic. And wear a face covering. Oh, and you may want to inform your neighbors before sneaking something on their porches. After all, surprising someone with a zucchini could lead to some unfortunately misunderstandings.

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