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Why do Americans still wear cloth masks?

Every time I leave my apartment, I grab a mask from the pile by the door. After all these months of living in a pandemic, I’ve got a pretty large collection: some are embroidered, others have the faded logos of the New York Public Library or the TV show Done. What they all have in common is that they are made of fabric.

Cloth masks are so ubiquitous in the US right now that it’s easy to forget that they were originally intended as a stopgap measure. In April 2020, when surgical masks and much sought-after N95 were initially scarce, the CDC released its first mask guidelines, saying Cloth masks were the way to go for most people-notice that they could be sewn from old t-shirts at home. Even at this point, when the pandemic was full of strangers, we knew that cloth masks, while much better than maskless, weren’t as protective as other types. A growing body of research supports the idea that our masking norms don’t make a lot of sense: One recently to learn in Bangladesh, which does not yet require peer review but is considered one of the toughest to date to combat masking, associated wearing surgical masks with an 11.2 percent decrease in COVID-19 symptoms and antibodies, while cloth masks only with a. 5 percent less were associated. No wonder that many other countries, including France, Austria and Germany, have shifted their mask guidance away from cloth masks compared to those who offered higher protection a long time ago.

We may have once hoped that vaccines would avoid masking entirely, but unfortunately, masks seem to last a long time. And while a lot about our approach to the pandemic has changed over the past 18 months, our approach to masking has largely not changed. Why do we still tie pieces of cloth around our faces?

Unless you work in health care, the CDC is still recommends Masks made from at least two layers of washable, breathable fabric. A big reason for this is, yes, Surgical masks are still limited, according to the FDA, and therefore they need to be prioritized for health care workers. Though the shortage seemed to be subsiding this summer as vaccinations became widespread Decline in demand for surgical masks and fabric masks, the rise of the Delta variant triggered another big mask crunch.

But that’s not the only reason masking habits haven’t changed. Part of the problem is that the ongoing mask wars have helped make mask wear a simple binary file. “Unfortunately, there has been so much misinformation about the masking that it is so polarized,” Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, told me. “People are simply classified into either masked or not. And that would be like saying that everything that has wheels ”- including a tricycle and a jetliner -“ is the same ”.

Given this dichotomy, Americans generally do not pay enough attention to the quality of a mask and how it is worn. As Harvard epidemiologist Bill Hanage told me in an email, we still wear cloth masks because they are “still supposed to be better than nothing”. And they are really much better than nothing: he compared surgical masks with a sturdy, well-made umbrella and cloth masks with the cheap kind that is reversed. “Both are better than a plastic bag over your head that is better than nothing in itself,” he said.

But America’s complacency about masks is not simply the result of individual choices. Health officials could have prioritized using government resources to address the mask shortage and simply sent protective masks out to all Americans. “I can’t speak for the CDC,” Hanage said, “but I would hope they can get the message across that not all masks are created equal, just as all umbrellas are not created equal.” A CDC spokesman told me that while the agency believes that N95 masks “should provide better protection for the wearer and should be worn when available”, cloth masks have been shown to be “an effective source control method” CDC research, and are still recommended if N95s are not available. (The speaker made no mention of surgical masks and did not respond to a follow-up question.)

Many less scientific reasons also play a role in our ongoing obsession with cloth masks. Even if you don’t make cloth masks at home, they are generally cheaper than surgical masks because they are designed to be reused. (However, the Bangladesh study found that even a surgical mask washed 10 times was more effective at filtering particles than a cloth mask.) A 24-pack of cloth masks on Amazon costs $ 9 – about 37 cents each – while disposable surgical masks cost $ 9 each about 30 cents and N95s over 63 cents. For the same reason, cloth masks are considered more environmentally friendly – a non-trivial consideration given growing concerns about the Waste generated during the pandemic.

And for any company selling cloth masks now, selling is a busy business that an estimate, was worth $ 19.2 billion in 2020. Like t-shirts and baseball caps, cloth masks have become a means of promoting most American recreational pursuits: swearing allegiance to sports teams, colleges, and political causes. For luxury lovers, Fendi offers a silk version embroidered with a logo for $ 590.

Ultimately, while masking is important, it’s not the most important thing we should do to protect ourselves from the coronavirus. Although Osterholm makes it clear that he is very pro-masking, “it really is about the entire hierarchy of environmental control,” he said, referring to the various risk mitigation methods in a room, a Key concept in occupational safety. Vaccination is by far the best protective measure a person can take. Second, there must be adequate ventilation – the air in a room needs to be changed at least five to six times an hour, he explained. Next comes social distancing. And then there is the masking: “In this order you go down and down, and after all, the individual respiratory protection is the very lowest in terms of the overall prevention potential,” he said.

And there is still a lot to learn about the effectiveness of masking. Even the most rigorous studies of masking have limitations, Osterholm said, mainly due to flaws in their methodology. Cloth masks are less protective than surgical masks, however Exactly how much less remains uncertain. Roger Chou, epidemiologist at Oregon Health & Science University, the traces Mask studies told me in an email that he “really didn’t find a lot of evidence” of the effectiveness of fabric compared to surgical masks in curbing the spread of COVID-19 in communities, although he said plenty of other data prove their effectiveness. The most important thing, Chou said, “is wearing a mask, be it a surgical mask or a cloth mask”.

Even if a move towards surgical masks wasn’t a pandemic panacea, America’s mask indolence is in many ways a symptom of the country’s one-way pandemic response. The country has been relying collectively on vaccination to end the pandemic, and as a result, attention has been lagging over other protective measures. Our vaccines are great, but it is now clear that our best way out of the pandemic is not just about vaccination. “If you have enough Swiss cheese, you can cover every hole and not see the table,” said Osterholm. “If you ask [one slice] alone on the table, I promise you will see the table. “

If masks are Swiss splinters, then cloth masks have more holes than the surgical ones. As long as America is stuck with masks, we might as well switch to a less permeable pane.


Thank You For Reading!

Reference: www.theatlantic.com