Tuesday, April 21, 2020

COVID-19 Prophylaxes: Face Masks

On 29 February 2020, the US Surgeon General spoke down to those of us among the general public who would deign to wear a face mask. "Seriously people," he tweeted, "STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can't get them, to take care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk."

He put the important part in ALL CAPS, so I guess he is to be believed.

On 30 March 2020, the World Health Organization repeated their mantra that face masks don't work, at least for those of us among the masses. "There is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any potential benefit. In fact, there's some evidence to suggest the opposite in the misuse of wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly,"

Using my magnum databasus, I have compared the infection rate of those countries with widespread use of face masks prior to 1 March 2020 to those countries who had no particular use of face masks prior to that same date. You can probably guess some of the countries, and you can probably guess the impending results.

Based on my prowling of the internet (a.k.a the source of all knowledge), I concluded that the following countries were taking widespread advantage of face masks prior to 1 March 2020. I present the 13 countries below in decreasing order of infections per million residents, that value being in parentheses, that value being current as of 13 April 2020. The grand prize winner will be at the bottom.

Keep in mind that the average infection rate for the good ol' USA, land of the free and home of the "Seriously people, STOP BUYING MASKS!" US Surgeon General, was 1,773 as of that same date.

Singapore (499)
South Korea (206)
Hong Kong (135)
Macao (89)
Japan (60)
China (57)
Thailand (37)
Phillippines (25)
Taiwan (17)
Indonesia (17)
Sri Lanka (10)
Vietnam (3)
Nepal (0)

We can use these data to calculate my world famous PI, which stands for prophylactic index. The average infection rate for the 13 countries in the face mask study group is 87 infections per million. The average infection rate for the 178 countries outside the face mask study group is 455 infections per million. The PI for face masks is 455 / 87 = 5.2.

On a worldwide basis, those countries that follow the advice of the US Surgeon General and the World Health Organization are 5 times more likely to become infected than those countries who tell those leaders to piss off.

In fairness to the US Surgeon General, in a public act of probably enforced contrition, he later posted a video, starring himself, advising that not only should people wear face masks, they can make their own at home. He even published instructions. Good for him for swallowing the bitter pill.

In fairness to the the World Health Organization, it has been considerably less contrite with respect to its indefensible face mask position. In its position paper of 6 April 2020, the WHO tried to cover its organizational ass as best it could. The emphasis is in the original.

“Wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including COVID-19. However, the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection, and other measures should also be adopted. Whether or not masks are used, maximum compliance with hand hygiene and other IPC measures is critical to prevent human-to-human transmission of COVID-19.”

Their new position, if I may be so bold as to state it clearly for them, is that face masks do work but only if you wash your hands.

Do we really need the WHO to tell us to wash our hands? Whose mother didn't tell him or her repeatedly to wash his or her hands?

In the same position paper, the motherly WHO immediately followed its new, brilliant "wash and wear" position with the following gobbledygook.

"Studies of influenza, influenza-like illness, and human coronaviruses provide evidence that the use of a medical mask can prevent the spread of infectious droplets from an infected person to someone else and potential contamination of the environment by these droplets. There is limited evidence that wearing a medical mask by healthy individuals in the households or among contacts of a sick patient, or among attendees of mass gatherings may be beneficial as a preventive measure. However, there is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19."

If I may be so bold, I'll try to clarify their gobbledygook for them. Here we go. Masks work if you are around people who are known to be sick, or if you are in a mass gathering of people not known to be sick, but they may not work when you are otherwise out in the public, rather or not everyone else is wearing a mask.

Sorry. That was the best I could do for them. It was like trying to put lipstick on the swine flu.

Here, back in the good ol' US of A, we are considering how soon and to what extent we should ease our semi-lockdown. Given the effectiveness of face masks in reducing the spread of the coronavirus, we should absolutely condition relaxation of the social distancing restrictions on adoption of appropriate face mask requirements.

To stress this point more fully, I'll end this post by recalculating the face mask PI based on just those countries north of the tropics. Recall that in my previous post, those countries north of the tropics have far, far higher infection rates than countries further south. Face masks, therefore, will likely provide those in the northern latitudes even greater relative benefit.

Here we go:

South Korea: 206 infections per million, as of 13 April 2020
China: 57
Japan: 60
Taiwan: 17
Nepal: 0

Average for northern latitude, face-mask-wearing countries: 68.1
Average for other northern latitude countries: 863.9
Increased safety factor for wearing face masks: PI = 12.7

As the contrite US Surgeon General might now tweet: ""Seriously people, START WEARING MASKS!" 

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