Joe Biden has been tweeting about his plan to implement a 100-day national mask mandate. A largely symbolic statement given the vast majority of Americans are already wearing masks and have been doing so for many months now, if not the duration of the pandemic.
Today, 38 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico already have mask requirements. Other states, in lieu of a statewide order, have opted to permit counties to make their own decisions based on local infection rates. Or some states have required mandatory face coverings for specific industries such as salons and barbershops where people come into close contact.
That said, should politicians be expanding mask requirements 10 months into the pandemic or instead prudently reviewing the data to examine whether or not face coverings have been effective in curbing the spread of the coronavirus?
Let’s look at California. On June 18, the day Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom announced its statewide mask order, there were 4,317 new coronavirus cases reported. On Dec. 26, there were 50,141 reported cases according to covid19.ca.gov, the state’s COVID tracker. On June 18, there were 4,587 COVID-19 patient hospitalizations. Yet, approximately six months later, on Dec 29, there were 21,433 COVID-related hospitalizations.
In New York, Bloomberg News reports, “Covid cases in New York City are approaching a seven-day average positivity rate of 8%, the highest in more than seven months, and city hospitals are admitting more than 200 people a day for Covid-like illness.”
In neighboring New Jersey, a mask mandate was implemented on July 8 with 252 new cases reported. On Dec. 30, there were 4,718 new cases reported. On July 8, there were 935 COVID-19 patient hospitalizations recorded versus 3,765 on Dec. 29, according to data compiled by the New York Times.
Ohio’s mask mandate went into effect July 23. That day, 1,444 new cases were recorded versus 8,178 cases on Dec. 30. On July 23, there were 1,105 COVID-19 patient hospitalizations versus 4,409 on Dec. 30.
But that’s not all. In Colorado, mandatory face coverings went into effect July 17. That day, 592 new cases were recorded versus 2,568 new cases recorded on Dec. 30. On July 17, there were 270 COVID-19 patient hospitalizations recorded versus 1,188 recorded on Dec. 29.
As you can see from the small sampling of regions highlighted, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been increasing, not decreasing, despite mask mandates. However, it’s important to note that data fluctuates based on a variety of factors and the few states mentioned do not represent the entire country.
It’s also imperative to note that the CDC strongly recommends the public wear a mask when social distancing is not possible. On a personal note, I wear a mask every time I leave my home and encourage others to do the same until health authorities say otherwise.
However, it’s always sensible to review and analyze data to understand what mitigation measures are working, or may not be working, as we navigate the pandemic. We also have a social responsibility to review the detrimental consequences masks are having on the environment.
An alarming new study released by OceanAsia a Hong Kong-based marine conservation group found that “from a global production projection of 52 billion masks for 2020, we estimate that 1.56 billion masks will enter our oceans in 2020, amounting to between 4,680 and 6,240 metric tonnes of plastic pollution.”
A troubling trend that won’t be going away anytime soon. “These masks will take as long as 450 years to break down and all the while serve as a source of micro plastic and negatively impact marine wildlife and ecosystems,” they said.
Bottom line: Authorities must do an in-depth analysis to determine if mask mandates are truly effective in curtailing the spread of the coronavirus and at what cost to the environment now and in the future.