Clive asks whether the angst over mask wearing is productive?
In what seems like a classic case of failing to see the forest from the trees; friends, neighbors and social media seem to be more exercised by the morality and principles of mask wearing than with the far more consequential health and socio-economic consequences of Coronavirus.
To get your attention, and to prove the delinquency of our puerile debates on masks, here are a few alarming numbers. As a result of distressed socio-economic systems around the world, predictions are for an additional 6.3 million cases of Tuberculosis resulting in an additional 1.3 million deaths. An additional 769,000 deaths from malaria, and 550,000 HIV related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa alone. (1). Worst case scenarios suggest that an additional 100 million people will fall into poverty living off less than $1.90 a day. (2)
To put those numbers in context, as I write, there have been 766,393 deaths worldwide from CV19, with 172,301 of those in the US and 41,361 in the UK.
Yet the most vociferous, hostile and divisive debates are about wearing masks!
The very fact that I have to declare upfront that I wear a mask indoors when asked to do so by owners or employees is evidence that, along with racism and political party affiliation, compliance with mask protocol is the most contentious issue facing many communities in these discombobulating times.
The truth is that while it makes sense that wearing a piece of cloth across our nose and mouth might stop us spreading germs, there is no conclusive scientific consensus on the efficacy of wearing face masks to prevent transmission of the CV19 virus indoors, let alone outdoors.
The partisan nature of this dilemma is evidenced by the fact that Democrats and Democratic inclined independents are about twice as likely as Republicans and Republican inclined independents to say that masks should be always be worn (63% vs. 29%). Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to say that masks should rarely or never be worn (23% vs. 4%). (2)
Yet it is not just political inclination that seems to drive behavior. Women are more likely to wear masks than men. (53% to 42%). Black people and Hispanics are more likely than whites. (62% to 41%). Older more likely than young. (55% to 42%). City dwellers more likely than country folk. (57% to 40%). (2)
Perhaps it’s not surprising there is so much rancor and division among us. The debate has been aggravated by constantly changing advice from public health officials and governments. First, we were told not to use masks as they “didn’t work”. Then we were told they “might help”. Now we must wear them on pain of pecuniary penalty or, perhaps worse, social derision and exile.
We also find that the scientists and clinicians are divided on everything from the effectiveness of masks to the appropriateness of hydroxychloroquine and whether lockdowns work or not. In all this confusion, it seems to me that we are making mountains out of molehills masquerading as masks, while seemingly ignoring far more pervasive and material collateral damage whose causes are not in any doubt.
National and global economies have collapsed. Recession is either here or looming. Unemployment has rocketed. National debt levels have reached eye-watering historical highs. Education has been maimed.
Healthcare systems have been similarly handicapped. I’ve already touched on the magnitude of the consequences of this on a global level. Nationally, it’s worth noting that 1.2 million people die every year in the US from long term conditions like cancer and heart disease (4). In the UK that number is about 340,000. (5) Total those up and that is almost 5 times as many people who have died in both countries from CV19. (6)
At the same time it is reported that in the US anxiety disorders have risen by 3X since the end of 2019, and depressive disorders by 4X. (7) Consider that before the pandemic 10 million Americans abused prescription pain killers. (8) Imagine what the impact of lockdowns and school closures are having on this already fatal epidemic of drug abuse!
Yet I don’t remember sitting around too many dinner tables or discussion forums having heated debates about how we should impose stringent dietary conditions on the general population or holding the pharmaceutical industry and doctors to account for over subscribing narcotics.
Perhaps it is time to consider whether we are getting agitated and distracted by the wrong issue. At times like this, if we are going to indulge in divisive and controversial debates, shouldn’t they at least be about material issues that really matter, rather than partisan sideshows?
Maybe it’s time to put our personal ‘pet hates’ and ‘new world problems’ to one side and focus on the wider picture? To start talking about the idea that our existence on this planet should not be about the avoidance of death, but the living of life!