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  • Writer's picturegraeme

LOCKDOWN REFLECTIONS DAY 56: Just wear the mask

I remember the first time I encountered mask wearing culture. It was more than 15 years ago in Singapore, if I remember correctly. I commented to my host that it was interesting that quite a few people were scared of getting sick. “No, no” she gently replied, “those people are not scared of getting sick, they are scared of making you sick.”

All across Asia, when people feel a little bit sick, they wear masks with the intention of minimising infecting others. They’ve been doing it for decades. This is our new reality and best practice everywhere.

I’ll never forget the impact that little insight had on my worldview. I was born and raised in the “Western” world. Yes, I am African by birth and choice, but my worldview is rooted in British colonial individualism. The pinnacle of the expression of this worldview is conservative America, where the hero is seen as the rugged individual who neither asks for nor ever receives help from anyone else as he builds his life successes. It expresses itself in rights without responsibilities, and neoliberal libertarianism is its political home.

In reality, it’s an impossible position to hold. No one makes it on their own. No one exists outside a system. And everytime there’s an economic crash, these rugged individualists are the first to sign up for a government bailout.

But I want to make a simpler point today. Your right to choose what’s right for you does NOT trump society’s right to be protected from the stupidity of your actions and decisions.

You cannot smoke cigarettes in public places, because your right to smoke does not trump my right to clean air. In my neighbourhood, you can’t burn garden refuse in your own property, because that will pollute the neighbourhood’s air. You can’t play loud music all through the night, because the rest of us have a right to peace and quiet. You can’t even choose to not wear a seatbelt in your own car, because we don’t want your recklessness putting a burden on our healthcare system if you have a car accident.

No individual freedoms and rights are absolute. They all exist in a societal context.

And so, with respect to wearing masks when out in public, it is NOT your choice (even if your government says it’s optional). There is a disease going around - you might have noticed - that is pretty infectious and is carried on the droplets of breath that come out of your mouth every time you breathe. The mask you wear is not to protect you from us - it’s to stop you infecting others. And it’s not optional at the moment, because you don’t know for sure that you’re not infectious.

Please also read the attached update about people claiming masks will cause health problems. You do realise that doctors and nurses wear masks all day all the time? That should be enough info to sort out any of your aunties who are telling you about oxygen deprivation and the like, but read the attached if you need more.

And then just wear a mask. It is literally the least you can do.

Good Lordt. If I hear one more Ill informed drama queen whine about cloth or surgical masks causing profound lack of oxygenation I’m going to pass out and it won’t be due to severe hypoxia or “Co2 poisoning” it’ll be because my eyeballs have rolled so far back into my head that I’ve completely lost consciousness.

You do realize that surgeons and circulating nurses in the OR have worn surgical masks for entire shifts their whole careers, right? If there’s one group of people that you don’t want becoming hypoxic it’s the people holding power tools and scalpels over an anesthetized human with their insides hanging out. Surgical masks and their effects on oxygenation have been studied for decades. Except in rare instances of people with obstructive airway diseases, surgical masks (and by proxy, cloth masks) do not cause any problems whatsoever with adequate respiratory gas exchange.

You want to know why? Because surgical masks and cloth masks aren’t really “filtering” anything, including oxygen or Co2. That’s right, they aren’t respirators, like the n95 mask (which is filtering). Surgical and cloth masks serve 1 purpose and 1 purpose only; to minimize droplets, which can carry bacteria and virus, from A-leaving the immediate nose/mouth area of the mask wearer and B-from landing on the nose/mouth area of the mask wearer. That’s it. That’s all they do. That’s why they’re recommended for the general public to help minimize the spread of infectious droplets.

N95 masks are totally different. They are actually meant to filter, so they do restrict normal airflow. That is why they are not recommended for the public. If you are wearing an n95 mask around town and feeling short of breath, switch to a surgical or cloth mask. Simple as that.

All of these hysterical “masks are tyranny” people running around saying that cloth/surgical masks cause hypoxia are suffering from self-induced-anxiety-related hyperventilation that is completely preventable if they’d just calm the F down and stop looking for some made up reason to feel oppressed by the man.

You want other people’s infected droplets flying at your face, because you’ve been brain washed to believe the false narrative that you’re not breathing properly in a cloth mask, fine....don’t wear one. But if a business actually realizes that this action puts others at risk because now your “possibly infected” slobber is also spewing out into the faces of other people who are following reasonable guidelines to protect themselves and others by wearing a cloth mask, don’t stand on your wobbly soap box and whine about their decision to refuse service to your ignorant behind.

Cloth and surgical masks don’t cause problems with breathing for anyone without an obstructive airway disease or with normal facial anatomy. Period. End of discussion. Stop the hysteria and you’ll breathe fine with one on.

ETA: views are mine and are not expressed on behalf of any organization or employer.

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