The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the quiet part out loud last week: Masks are here to stay. The government is now normalizing the “new normal” of a masked American society, and not just for Covid-19.
“The evidence is clear: Masks can help reduce your chance of Covid-19 infection by more than 80%,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a new YouTube government promotional video. “Masks also help protect from the flu, coronavirus, or even just the common cold. In combination with other steps like getting your vaccination, hand washing, and keeping physical distance, wearing your mask is an important step you can take to keep us all healthy.”
Her video remarks were in answer to the question often posed: “Why do I need to still need to wear a mask?”
Americans in many communities have been wearing masks for over 18 months, with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been unwavering in its support for mask-wearing. That is, after the first few weeks of the pandemic, when even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, said that wearing masks was not helpful.
On March 8, 2020, Fauci said, “There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask. When you’re in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better and it might even block a droplet, but it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is. And, often, there are unintended consequences — people keep fiddling with the mask and they keep touching their face.”
His remarks came during an interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes. In a 2020 memo, he wrote, “Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection. The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keep out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you.”
Later, he said the comment required context:
“I don’t regret anything I said then because in the context of the time in which I said it, it was correct. We were told in our task force meetings that we have a serious problem with the lack of PPEs,” he said in an interview with CBS Evening News.
Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink also stated in 2020 that masks are not helpful in preventing transmission of the virus.
Zink told the Senate Health and Social Services Committee on Feb. 12, 2020 that a person wearing a mask is breathing in a wet, moist environment collecting viruses and bacteria, and it is in general not useful for protection from other persons’ germs.
In 2021, the science has changed. Dr. Walensky says it can reduce your chance of catching Covid by more than 80 percent.
California and Florida are two examples of states taking different approaches on masking. In early October, Covid transmission was flat in California.
Gov. Gavin Newsom bragged on Twitter that “California continues to lead the nation with the lowest COVID case rate and as the only state in the CDC’s ‘moderate transmission’ category.”
The mask-mandated Golden State is now back in the red “high” territory of transmission. California has had a total of 4.96 million cases since the beginning of the pandemic, and 72,671 deaths attributed to Covid.
Meanwhile, Florida, which has Gov. Ron DeSantis taking a no-mask-mandate approach, sees cases dropping. In fact, California’s rate of transmission is now double that of Florida, Texas, and the rest of the Gulf Coast states.
Florida has reported 3.66 million cases of Covid and 60,334 deaths attributed to the virus. While California’s population (39 million) is greater than that of Florida (27 million), the average Floridian trends much older and therefore more vulnerable to the ravages of Covid. California’s population that is over the age of 65 is 14.3 percent, while Florida’ 65+ population is 20.5 percent.
DeSantis told Fox interviewer Laura Ingram last week that the media has suddenly lost interest in Florida’s Covid situation: “I guess Florida is no longer part of the United States. They just pretend like we don’t exist …Now that we’re in a situation we have very low numbers, you don’t hear a peep.”
But the push toward universal masking is now moving into a new realm. Public universities are teaching professionals how to normalize mask wearing by using social pressure, celebrity influencers, authority figures, and others. The Behavior Change for Good Initiative at the Wharton School and the School of Arts and Sciences of the University of Pennsylvania published a flyer with helpful suggestions such as:
- “Emphasize that wearing a mask helps convince others to wear a mask too.
- “Encourage parents to create rituals with their children around mask-wearing.
- “Recommend that people carry extra masks to give to others.”
- “Convey that masks can be fashion items allowing for self-expression.”
- “Trigger disgust and aversion to contagion by reminding people that without masks, they are likely to get up close and personal with undesirable germs.”
- “When targeting certain groups, seek quotes and images highlighting that masks do not conflict with their values or sense of identity. i.e. Some men may feel that wearing a mask undermines their masculinity. Quotes and imagery should align mask-wearing with independence and strength.”
The Wharton School / UPenn flyer has many other tips for professionals to use to change public behavior for good … or for “good”: