As the number of infected cases and collective fear rise, masks have emerged as a bone of contention. But should wearing a mask even be considered a debate that is worth exploring right now?
The pandemic, undoubtedly, has brought about immense changes in all our lives- be it physical, mental, social, or economical. Although not easy, most of us have- more or less- accepted these changes like taking utmost care of our hygiene, social distancing, and of course, wearing masks whenever stepping outside. The image of masses of people wearing masks has consumed our popular imagination. International, as well as Indian fashion brands, have also ventured in manufacturing stylish masks, clearly indicating that masks have occupied an integral part of our wardrobe as well as our everyday routine.
Since the unfolding of this deadly virus, masks have been advocated largely as one of the best defense mechanisms against catching the infection. But in recent times, protests and individual annoyance questioning the benefit of masks have erupted. It has been claimed that masks cause difficulty in breathing, and making them compulsory to wear in public places is a violation of an individual’s freedom. Masks are a bit of hindrance in communication as well. While the United States has witnessed organized protests against masks, countries like Britain, India, and many others witness a refusal to comply largely. In the US, the issue has taken a political turn as well, and many videos of angry mask-less customers arguing with the owners and other customers have gone viral. People have been divided on the issue on the basis of their political leanings. President Trump too has not been very clear about his stand on the subject. Earlier, he had mocked his rival, Joe Biden for wearing one. But after making his first public appearance on 12th July 2020- wearing a mask- he said that he was never against it, just that they had a time and a place. India also has its fair share of people flouting social distancing and other health guidelines. Recently, in Andhra Pradesh, a government official assaulted a differently-abled female co-worker after she asked him to wear a mask.
Whatever the ‘hot-headed defenders of personal freedom’ claim, scientific evidence proves that masks are very instrumental in slowing the spread of the virus. Firstly, wearing masks is more about protecting others than you. Whenever we speak, things come out of our mouths at very fast speeds. Cloth masks block them from entering the other person’s nasal cavity- the main point of entrance for the virus before it attacks the lungs. Secondly, our breathing levels are not affected by masks. Experts doubt that any cloth face mask can ever fit against the face so tight that someone can pass out due to lack of oxygen. In fact, most of us take it off before it becomes too uncomfortable. Historically too, masks have proved their mettle. During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 – 20, masks were made mandatory in San Francisco. Violators were fined $5- $100 and could also face imprisonment. France and Britain also advised the same along with the US and led the world in their use. In the United States, a new study showed that one of the main drivers of cases now could be ‘silent spreaders’, or people who are asymptomatic or presymptomatic. Thus, it clearly indicates the importance of masks for wearers as well as the people around them.
Questioning the viability of masks is not wrong. As we are jostling with such trying times, it is commendable that we question and search for the truth, rather than blindly believe hearsay. Moreover, in the early days of the pandemic, many governments warned the public against wearing face masks, fearing that demand would leave frontline health workers without vital supplies, or that it may lead to a false sense of security. But in late March and early April, officials reversed the decision on masks, thus making people skeptical. As we try to understand the virus and its spread better every day, the use of masks, undoubtedly, proves to be very vital in the absence of a vaccine. Although masks are an imperfect defense against the coronavirus, evidence has mounted that when combined with social distancing, eye protection, and frequent hand washing, they can prove to be an inexpensive intervention.
It is ironic that on one hand, lockdown guidelines are being eased while on the other, a continuous surge in infected cases is being noted. Doubting and questioning are welcome, but the times call for listening and adhering to reason. Carrying out full-fledged researches on the efficacy of masks is not possible as of now, however, numerous studies do support their use. Care must be taken regarding choosing a good mask that covers mouth and nose well and is also thick enough to block any virus-laden droplets. As the world gets ready to step out again even though the virus looms, a piece of cloth with two bands on two ends, with our perseverance and collective effort, can make a huge difference.
Image credits- ANDREI SHUMSKIY