The Citizens Handbook
Masking not Distancing
Australian doctors closely packed at a convention during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Centre for Global Development has questioned whether policymakers have evidence-based answers for recommending lockdowns and physical-distancing to control the Covid-19 pandemic.

Evidence suggests the pandemic can be held in check if people wear surgical masks when near others and sanitize their hands when entering buildings or public transit. Surgical masks are typically blue, pleated and attach with ear loops. Masking will be effective in all but a few instances, such as eating at restaurants. Mandatory social-masking and entry hand-sanitizing would eliminate destructive lockdowns, permitting the normal operation of schools, businesses and the other elements of everyday life.

Most mainstream media have failed to adequately report the rationale behind physical-distancing. It comes from research that shows that viruses are transmitted in micro-droplets sent into the air when people talk, and when they exhale. Loud talking and heavy breathing through the mouth emit more particles. Because micro-droplets float in the air for hours, social distancing by itself may be ineffective in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation. For more info see this video report on research from Japan.

Mainstream media has also failed to emphasize that infected people with no symptoms can shed large amounts of virus. In fact, as reported in Nature, infected persons may be most capable of spreading the Covid-19 virus 1-2 days before showing any symptoms.

But surgical masks can prevent transmission. An international research group led by a team at the University of Hong Kong studied 246 people sick with viral infections. The researchers randomly assigned half of the people to wear surgical masks. Then the team measured viruses present in each person’s exhaled breaths. Between 30 and 40 percent of the people with coronavirus infections exhaled viruses if they wore no mask. But no virus was detected in breaths exhaled through a surgical mask. For details see the April 3 report in Nature Medicine. Cloth masks did not perform nearly as well, but are recommended where surgical masks are not available. For this reason, the CDC has provided instructions on how to make a cloth mask. Epidemiologists say that masks should not be worn continuously but only when necessary. Surgical masks are meant to be single-use, but they can be disinfected and reused by allowing them to dry 48 hours (washing and spraying with alcohol both degrade the mask). Hospitals can disinfect masks with simple UV treatment. There would be no shortage of surgical masks if they were disinfected and reused.

Taiwan, a country of 23 million, has performed better than any other country with only 6 Covid-19 deaths as of May 10, 2020. It did not shut down its economy, like less-prepared countries. Instead, according to president Tsai Ing-Wen:
“Upon the discovery of the first infected person in Taiwan on January 21, we undertook rigorous investigative efforts to track travel and contact history for every patient, helping to isolate and contain the contagion before a mass community outbreak was possible. In addition, government . . . took over the production and distribution of medical-grade masks. and devised a system for distributing rationed masks to everyone.”

None of this should imply that physical-distancing does not work, but in many places it is impossible, such as densely populated cities, slums, prisons, churches, schools, sports stadiums, public transit, meat packing plants, and elder care facilities. In many counties government insistence on physical distancing has created an immense socioeconomic crisis. In India, where the government has asked 1.3 billion people to stay home for three weeks, literally millions have been left stranded, homeless, without work, and potentially going hungry. Covid-19 is undoing years of progress in curbing global poverty.

Governments and policymakers need to take a closer look at the available evidence, and require social-masking and entry hand-sanitizing instead of destructive lockdowns and impractical physical-distancing.

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