Very early in the crisis I was working on a post about masks before the US made its big shift in favor of masking. This was partly based on my own observations but I was also reading the commentary of the Turkish-American sociologist Zeynep Tufekci. The story seemed to be one of American but also really Western complacency and arrogance. The general wisdom seemed to be: ‘yes, they wear masks in Asia. It’s a good system of social signaling, demonstrating that you take the epidemic seriously. And certainly there’s no harm but masks don’t actually work.’
Then we decided masking does work.
In some quarters this has been presented as based on new knowledge about COVID, particularly the number of asymptomatic carriers and the infectiousness of asymptomatic carriers. But this is mostly a cop-out inasmuch a lot of the logic of masking is based on the idea that many people won’t know they’re ill or won’t know they’re infectious. A substantial amount of the rethink was based on the impossibility of rejecting out of hand the strategies practiced in East Asia when countries in East Asia were all doing so much dramatically better than we were in the United States as well as in most of Europe.
I’m still trying to pull together the information and we don’t yet have anything definitive. But there seems to be a growing mix of inferential evidence and early studies that suggest not only that masks do have an effect but that they may have a bigger effect than many of us expected. Masking may even be playing a significant role in preventing new outbreaks or acceleration of transmission in areas that are moving back toward semi-normal economic and social life.
If you see data or studies on this front, pointing in any direction, please drop me a line with the information. Meanwhile, wear your mask.