masks

Virtually all protesters at the Black Lives Matter protest June 5 wore masks.   A new study found that wearing masks prevents getting COVID-19 as well as transmitting it to others.

Up until now, the dominant rationale for wearing face masks was to stop yourself from spreading COVID-19 to others.

Wearing one seemed somewhat silly here in a community that was generally shuttered, at road’s end, and had at most, two cases, neither of which required hospitalization. Once Joseph’s Main Street was transformed into a tourist desert, wearing a face-covering to prevent you, a perfectly healthy individual with no contact with others who had the disease, seemed pointless. They made you hard to understand when you talked. They itched. They fogged your glasses.

But that rationale for going maskless has just been unmasked. Wearing a mask actually protects you from getting COVID-19, according to a thorough new study, just published June 11 in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

This is invaluable new information that’s appeared just as visitors from Portland, Seattle, and other virus-laden places begin to flood into the county on summer vacations, and Union County experiences a COVID-19 meltdown. It is the rationale behind Gov. Kate Brown’s announcement that effective June 24, face masks will be required at all indoor public spaces in several Oregon counties. It should be statewide.

The comprehensive study by researchers from Texas A&M University, the University of Texas, University of California San Diego and CalTech examined data and mitigation procedures in Wuhan, China; Rome; and New York City.

It plainly states, “Face covering prevents airborne transmission by blocking atomization and inhalation of virus-bearing aerosols.”

The report criticizes the World Health Organization (WHO) for its early recommendations that claimed that wearing a mask is important “only to prevent infected persons from viral transmission … but that it is unimportant to prevent uninfected persons from breathing virus-bearing aerosols.”

Nope, wearing a mask is now deemed to be very effective in preventing you from inhaling COVID-19 viruses sneezed, coughed or just breathed into the air by somebody else. Therefore, it saves you from becoming another statistic on the Oregon Health Authority’s daily list of new cases and deaths.

It showed that in cities where wearing masks was required, the number of cases were significantly reduced. There were an estimated 78,000 fewer cases in Rome during the month of April 6 to May 9. In New York City, there were 66,000 fewer cases during the same time period.

“Other measures, such as social distancing implemented in the United States, are insufficient by themselves in protecting the public. We conclude that the wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission.” the study concluded.

The implications of this study are significant. It suggests that if everyone in the audience — and maybe at the chutes — wore a mask, we might still be able to have Chief Joseph Days. The Back Country Bash. Courthouse Concerts and so much more. It means that if you go to the grocery store, and hence mingle with all manner of visitors, if you wear a mask you’ll be largely protected from COVID-19 viruses that they may be carrying.

This study doesn’t mean that we should stop the precautions of hand-washing, social distancing, and others already in place. But it does point out the critical importance of the work of so many community volunteers who made masks for us early in the pandemic. They’ll keep you safe. I’m putting mine back on.

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Ellen Morris Bishop is a reporter with the Wallowa County Chieftain. She can be reached at 541-426-4567 or by email at ebishop@wallowa.com.

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