To Mask or Not to Mask? That is the Question… And Science Offers An Evidence-Based Answer!

To Mask or Not to Mask? That is the Question… And Science Offers An Evidence-Based Answer!

Photo by Althea Smith, cancer survivor

After a recent visit to the grocery store (a trip that I try to limit under the current conditions) I was amazed (appalled may be the better term) at how many people (employees and customers) were NOT wearing masks! I was tempted to ask some of these maskless folks why they were choosing not to follow this particular public health recommendation but I didn’t want to cause a commotion. Instead, I posed the question to the Internet and Googled, “To mask or not to mask” just to see what came up.

Rather amusingly, my search revealed a study paper titled “To mask or not to mask: Modeling the potential for face mask use by the general public to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic” by S.E. Eikenberry et al that is available at the National Institute of Health National Library of Medicine.

You can read the paper here:

The abstract reads: Our results suggest use of face masks by the general public is potentially of high value in curtailing community transmission and the burden of the pandemic. The community-wide benefits are likely to be greatest when face masks are used in conjunction with other non-pharmaceutical practices (such as social-distancing), and when adoption is nearly universal (nation-wide) and compliance is high.

The paper concludes: In conclusion, our findings suggest that face mask use should be as nearly universal (i.e., nation-wide) as possible and implemented without delay, even if most masks are homemade and of relatively low quality. This measure could contribute greatly to controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, with the benefit greatest in conjunction with other non-pharmaceutical interventions that reduce community transmission. Despite uncertainty, the potential for benefit, the lack of obvious harm, and the precautionary principle lead us to strongly recommend as close to universal (homemade, unless medical masks can be used without diverting healthcare supply) mask use by the general public as possible.

The article certainly didn’t help me better understand why those who can wear a mask choose to NOT wear a mask... but it did offer additional support to those of us who choose to do so!

I understand some may have concerns related to pulmonary issues, how masks may affect oxygen intake or struggle with comfortability. This transcript from NPR’s “All Things Considered” with NPR health correspondent Maria Godoy addresses those concerns.

I certainly don’t mean to be “mask-shaming” (not surprisingly, that’s a thing - and I appreciate that, for some with certain medical or mental health issues, there may be viable reasons to not wear a mask. All I’m suggesting is that IF YOU CAN WEAR A MASK, PLEASE WEAR A MASK!

Beyond Wearing a Mask!

There is, of course, so much more you can and should do to protect yourself and others from COVID-19... especially washing/sanitizing your hands regularly and ALWAYS BEFORE TOUCHING YOUR FACE/EYES! The CDC encourages “Keep these items on hand when venturing out: a cloth face covering, tissues, and a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, if possible.” For more helpful suggestions visit these CDC website pages:

I am convinced if we all share equally in the responsibility of keeping ourselves and one another safe and healthy we can continue to “Survive, Thrive & Be Fit” not just through the cancer experience by through COVID-19 as well!

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