Tanya Lewis: Hi, welcome to COVID, fast, Scientific american Podcast series.
Josh Fischman: This is your quick update on the COVID pandemic. We take you quickly to understand the science behind the most pressing issues related to viruses and diseases. We uncover the mystery of research and help you understand its true meaning.
Lewis: This is Tanya Lewis.
Fishman: This is Josh Fischman.
Lewis: And we Scientific americanThe senior health editor. Today we are going to talk about masks: First, why people refuse to wear masks despite all the evidence that they are effective.
Fishman: Then we will explain why the kind of mask you wear is important and how to find a good…
Lewis: And the latest news from President Biden.
It is puzzling to see how angry some people are about wearing masks. They refused, and some politicians supported them. It is a simple piece of fabric or material that can prevent the spread of COVID. So where does the rebound come from? Josh, you have spoken with an expert on attitudes towards masks. Is there any explanation?
Fishman: Like many strong reactions, Mask Rebound combines a range of different reasons and personal values.Emily Mendenhall, a medical anthropologist at Georgetown University, spent months talking with anti-masks in Okoboji, Iowa. Her book is reveal the mask, Launched next year. I talked to her about her findings this week.
Okoboji is a small town on a lake in northwestern Iowa. This is where Emily grew up, so she knows a lot of people there. She knows the steelworker and the story manager of the grocery store, and her father serves on the city council. The town is located in Clay County, which has approximately 17,000 residents. But it will soar to 100,000 people in the summer because the lake is a large local resort and the local economy depends on people going to restaurants, amusement parks and piers in the summer.
Emily said the need to make money is part of the reason people resist restrictions on activities. Wearing a mask is also in trouble. When the local health agency wanted to limit the occupancy rate of businesses, people fought back. This is expressed as “We don’t want the government to tell us what to do.” This attitude extends to cover up tasks. For many people, this is another example of government aggressiveness.
Emily said that this view is largely part of the rugged individualistic values of the Midwest. You are strong enough to pull yourself up on your own, relying on your own strength. She said this is fictitious and ignores the history of agricultural subsidies and other government assistance that dominate the region. However, this is a very powerful novel that people really believe.
All of this provides very fertile soil for 2020, when Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that the virus is no big deal. His message received a response from the governor of Iowa. At the time, there were not many COVID cases in the region. So Trump’s lies really penetrated the minds of many people in Clay County. They believed that since the virus is not a threat, there is no benefit in wearing a mask. They are strong enough to deal with the disease, and the government’s security measures simply deprived them of their freedom for no reason.
Finally, refusing to wear a mask is a very public act. Emily said that in Clay County and Okoboji, it gives people legitimacy in the community. It shows your neighbors that you are knowledgeable. You are smart enough to not believe in the lines that liberals, scientists, and governments are pushing. This open position will improve your position in the eyes of many people around you.
In private, some people told Emily that they were worried about the child being sick or their father. But in public, so many different anti-mask cultural values come together and become an overwhelming force.
Tanya, we often talk about masks or coverings as if they are all the same. But you have been studying it, and I know that you find that some masks are better than others. Can the public reach and face better people?
Lewis: Yes. The best masks are those that fit and filter the air you breathe. A mask called a respirator, such as N95, provides some of the best protection.At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, health agencies including CDC and WHO told the public no Wear N95 or other medical grade masks because they are in short supply and medical staff need them. But these masks, and similar masks made in China or South Korea, are now more widely available. We also know that the virus that causes COVID is spread through aerosols, which are tiny droplets floating in the air that can bypass loose cloth or surgical masks.
I talked to several aerosol science experts, including Linsey Marr of Virginia Tech and Kimberly Prather of the University of California, San Diego. They said that it’s time for experts to start recommending people wear these high-filtering, better-fitting masks. In particular, the Delta variant of the mask, which has a very strong spread, is in circulation, and the children are going back to school. These masks include N95, KN95 made in China and KF94 made in Korea. They are now easy to find online, and many of them are very affordable—less than $1 per mask.
I talked to a man named Aaron Collins, who called himself a masked nerd. He is a mechanical engineer with a background in aerosol science. He has transformed his home bathroom into a facility where he can test different masks and comment on them on YouTube. He measures three parameters: filtration, fit and comfort-this is especially important. Filtering refers to the amount of particles passing through the mask (or through the gaps around the edges). Fit refers to how closely it fits on your face. Part of his measure of comfort is the pressure drop of the air entering the mask-basically the difficulty of breathing.
On Mask Nerd’s YouTube channel, you can find videos of his selected masks, including children’s masks. For N95, he recommended 3M, Moldex, Honeywell and other well-known brands. He also recommends several types of KF94 and KN95, many of which can filter up to 98% to 99% of particles and are generally more comfortable to wear. They fit better than most cloth or surgical masks and are more likely to protect you and others.
Counterfeit masks are worrying. But you can find well-known brands through websites such as ProjectN95.org. If you have no access to these types of masks, if you wear a surgical mask with a fitted cloth mask, you can still get good protection. But it’s time to abandon those loose headscarves and open masks hanging on the nose.
[CLIP: President Joe Biden: “Good evening, my fellow Americans. Tonight I want to talk to you about where we are in the battle against COVID-19—the progress we’ve made, and the work we have left to do.”]
Fishman: President Joe Biden created tens of millions of jobs this week based on vaccination. Biden said in a speech that he will require millions of federal workers to be vaccinated. He also said that companies with 100 or more employees will have to inject or test employees every week. One trick is law enforcement: it is not clear whether the Department of Labor, which is responsible for workplace safety, has a way to ensure that the company does this.
Lewis: He also requires medical staff from federally funded hospitals and other providers to be vaccinated. That’s not all: his goal is to conduct more tests by enacting the National Defense Production Law and get Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger to sell them, so that rapid tests are more widely available. In the context of anxiety about the start of school and some elected officials obstructing basic security measures, he said the government will compensate any educators facing retaliation. Biden admits that these measures will take time, but it is clear that his approach is shifting from carrots to sticks.
Now you can keep up with the speed. Thank you for joining us.
Fishman: Come back to watch the next episode of COVID in two weeks, hurry up! And check SciAm.com for the latest and in-depth COVID news.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]