Why I wear a mask

Face Masks for Coronavirus COVID-19 | Lindare Medical

It isn’t for me, it’s for you. It’s also virtue signalling, and nothing wrong with that. And finally, I’m glad to say, it’s what the law is where I live. There is of course a libertarian argument against mask wearing, just like there’s a libertarian argument against drunk driving. So what?

We have known for months that the main way COVID-19 spreads is through aerial droplets. When these dry out, they form an infective aerosol. So the best way to stop this happening is to catch them before they dry out. That’s the real function of the mask. It give some protection to the wearers, but much more important is the protection it gives to those around them.

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient. Image by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, via Washington Post

But I’m double vaccinated; how could I possibly be infectious? Very easily. We know that vaccines are not 100% effective against COVID-19, although they greatly reduce the chance of diagnosable infection, as well as the chance of such infection becoming serious or lethal. It follows that there might be quite a number of us wandering around harbouring the virus but completely unaware of it, especially if we have been vaccinated. And live vaccine has been recovered from the noses of vaccinated subjects. We also know that our vaccines are less effective against the relatively new Delta variant that they are against the older strains from which they were developed,  and the laws of mutation and evolution mean that new variants are emerging all the time, and being selected for their ability to spread even in a largely vaccinated population.

I also know that if people see those around them wearing masks, they are more likely to mask up themselves. That’s good for them, and good for those around them. This is what used to be called setting a good example, but that expression seems of gone out of fashion. Now it’s likely to be called virtue signalling, which actually means exactly the same thing, but is turned into an insulting attack on my sincerity. Too bad. I really don’t care whether or not strangers on a bus think that I’m virtuous. But I do care enough about them to want to see them keeping each other safe.

House of Commons debate on Afghanistan, 18 August 2021, via Daily Mail

In Scotland, as I write, mask mandates are in force in indoor environments where people from different households mix, with exceptions for the small minority for whom mask wearing is a problem. It isn’t for me, although I’m officially asthmatic and have been diagnosed with Level 2 Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. In England, by contrast, Alexander Boris dePfeffel Johnson dropped mask mandates in England while at the same time telling everyone that mask wearing was desirable. As it was, I thought his position completely in character, as was today’s spectacle of unmasked MPs in the crowded Chamber on his side of the House. However, I can only look on with astonishment when people like Governor Greg Abbott of Texas move to prevent local authorities, and schools, from imposing mask mandates in their own jurisdiction. I confess I was delighted to hear that Abbott himself has just tested positive for coronavirus. It is unlikely that he will come to any harm, since he is double vaccinated and no doubt, unlike many Americans, carries excellent health-insurance at the taxpayer’s expense, but there is every chance that during the pre-symptomatic phase of the infection he passed it on to others, who may not be so fortunate.

People hold signs as they listen to a speech in Bayonne
Protest in Bayonne, south-west France, against plans to require a health pass to enter a cafe or use intercity trains. Photograph: Bob Edme/AP via Guardian

But what about the libertarian argument against making mask wearing (or, indeed, vaccination) compulsory? This is an argument that for deep cultural reasons has appeal in the US, and I am surprised to see it echoed to the point of mass demonstrations in the UK and France. The argument is, presumably, that I am the best judge of my own circumstances, and the government (or as it is sometimes called the nanny state) should not be making my decisions for me.

An interesting argument. Surely I am better able than anyone else to evaluate the effect of alcohol on my driving, rather than imposing arbitrary limits based on the amount of alcohol in my blood, with no regard to how superbly well I personally happen to be able to carry my liquor. I also know better than anybody else just how well the brakes on my car need to work, given the way I drive; how dare government force me the obligation to spend my own money to have this checked by strangers? And so on.

Or perhaps I’d better keep such thoughts to myself, in case they resurface on GB News. And after all, if you really don’t care about what’s happening to the people around you, I can’t make you.

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on August 18, 2021, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I read somewhere that in 1 in 3 doubly vaccinated people exposed to the delta virus were asymptomatic.

    Recent studies have shown that intranasal sprays are very effective in preventing infections because that‘s where the retention and growth of the virus occurs. You might be interested in this from the NYT:


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe most people who wear the mask (We’re not including those with compromised immune systems or who have serious concerns well-understood.) do so because they can’t or won’t think for themselves, then they need to create a plethora of intellectual compensatory, good feelings, reasons why they do. It’s quite fascinating to see, although very troubling, because these people are encouraging the youth to also not think for themselves, to go along to get along, and live in fear of death. Not for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I assume that you believe that you think for yourself. I have spelt out in the article why I think people should wear masks, and would like to know why you think they should not. And yes, I do live in fear of death; that’s why I look before crossing the road. Don’t you?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Here’s a couple things that readers might attempt, if they can, to discover for themselves: Take sample masks (i.e. one a nurse uses, two from a store, and a homemade one….), then, in a laboratory, study particles moving through the fabric. Might be difficult getting corona virus samples, but and virus particle might help the understanding. Also, include those plastic shields some wear. See how the particles behave and pass through or around gaps and holes, even the fabric itself, and those face shields…. This might be the beginning of an “ah haaa” moment.


    • I thought it was common knowledge that ordinary cloth masks will not do a good job of stopping partices the size of a virus,but will trap the spray in breath that is how an infected person disperses the virus into the environment. Why do you think a surgeon wears a mask? And you don’t need 100% efficiency to make the difference between spreading ever more widely and petering out.

      And now I will apply the same Rule that I use for creationists; you’ve had two chances to make your point, and that’s your lot

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Excellent article, Paul, and the links for which thanks.
    It must be nice for people like Dolphinwrite to have a fully equipped, state of the art home laboratory where one could carry out his well described experiments with masks and particles but I don’t have such a thing, nor the time to work on that stuff. I’ll take the word of people who are smarter than I and who’ve put the study hours in on mask wearing.
    Shame he couldn’t feel free enough to publish the results of his complicated experimentations in answer to your questions.

    Liked by 2 people

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