Masks don’t work” goes the refrain from some who still want to maintain, even at this late date, that the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed 5,760 so far in Alabama is somehow a hoax.
If all we knew was that Alabama has been under a mask order since July while coronavirus cases have risen steadily since late October, that might be a reasonable conclusion. But it is not all we know.
We know, for example, that many of the “super spreader” events that have helped drive the rise in COVID cases have been formal and informal gatherings where those in attendance didn’t wear masks. We know that some people simply choose to ignore the state’s mask order, even when indoors, while shopping or engaging in other activities.
And we know college students will party given any excuse:
“Thousands of University of Alabama football fans partied in the street near campus after the Crimson Tide defeated Ohio State 52-24 for the national championship, ignoring pleas for safety at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in a celebration that a top health official said Tuesday could worsen disease spread,” reported The Associated Press.
Photos from the celebration show thousands of students and others jam-packed into the area of Tuscaloosa know as “The Strip,” few wearing masks.
Now state health officials are expecting another bump in COVID cases added to the rest.
“It’s disappointing to see people not paying attention to the guidance that we try to give to keep them safe,” said Dr. Scott Harris, the head of the Alabama Department of Public Health. “I was excited as anybody and wanted to celebrate also, but right now is not a time to be out in large groups of people close together when you are not masked.”
No one likes to keep harping on the importance of wearing face coverings in public during the pandemic — especially not public health officials — but it seems necessary.
Rollout of the vaccines to protect against the virus continues to go slowly, and it will take months for enough people to be vaccinated for the population to reach herd immunity, where the virus simply cannot find enough viable hosts to spread. The World Health Organization is predicting we will not even achieve herd immunity this year.
The WHO has been wrong in some of its COVID predictions so far, but there is no guarantee it’s wrong this time, nor that it’s erring on the side of pessimism.
The experts have not always gotten it right regarding COVID-19. They’ve been playing catch-up. But one expert recommendation that has stood up is the one to wear face coverings.
While it is true that the virus is by itself small enough to pass through the fabric of most masks, COVID-19 doesn’t travel by itself. It travels in water droplets that people exhale, and those droplets are large enough for masks to stop.
Go outside on a cold day, and you can see your breath. Now put on a mask. What you can see is now greatly diminished. That’s how masks work.
We may all be getting tired of wearing them, but masks do work, and they work better the more people use them.