CCP Virus, celebrities, coronavirus, COVID 19, election 2020, entertainment, Face the Nation, facemasks, Im-Politic, Joe Biden, Margaret Brennan, masks, Scott Gottlieb, sports, Trump, Wuhan virus
Joe Biden is not only big on masks. He clearly views them as a super-weapon against the CCP Virus.
At last week’s final presidential debate, the Democratic candidate said “The expectation is we’ll have another 200,000 Americans dead between now and the end of the year. If we just wore these masks, the president’s own advisors have told him, we can save a 100,000 lives.”
So it seems he believes that masks can cut forecast upcoming fatalities by 50 percent – no doubt why he also declared that “What I would do is make sure we have everyone encouraged to wear a mask all the time.”
The former Vice President is also clearly a believer in what I like to call “The Science” – apparently believing that there’s a strong consensus among the relevant medical authorities (i.e., not your family GP, or brain surgeons, or others in the healthcare field not specializing in epidemiology or respiratory diseases) on all anti-virus efforts and strategies, including on the power of mask-wearing.
So I found myself decidedly amazed this morning upon listening to Scott Gottlieb‘s take on the matter. Although he served as Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under President Trump, Gottlieb (an M.D., but an internist,by the way) has been a leading critic of the Trump anti-CCP Virus policies. And that’s fair enough. By the same token, however, it’s noteworthy that he came out with a distinctly non-Biden-y take on masks’ effectiveness.
When asked during his latest weekly Face the Nation appearance by host Margaret Brennan (who cited a claim by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that “masks are the best plan for the moment”) to “Walk us through what the safest masks are,” here was Gottlieb’s response:
“Remember the masks serve two purposes. One is to protect other people from you, so if you’re asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, if you have a mask on, you’re less likely to expel respiratory droplets that can affect other people. The other purpose is to provide you some measure of protection if in fact you’re around people who are infected. So if you want a mask to afford you some protection from other people, quality matters. A cloth mask may be 10 percent to 30 percent protective. A surgical mask, a Level Two or Level Three surgical mask, procedure mask, may be about 60 percent effective. An N-95 mask or equivalent, like a KN-95 mask, which is the Chinese equivalent, or what we call an FFP 2 mask, which is the European equivalent to an N-95 – that could be 90, 95 percent protective. So if you want a mask to afford you a level of protection, wear a higher quality mask. If you can only get a cloth mask, thickness matters, and cloth masks with polyester in them, that combination of polyester and cotton, do better.”
He did add that “A national mask mandate could be put into place,” but also stated that, “It doesn’t need to be backed up with fines or stringent enforcement. We have other requirements that we expect of a civil society that we enforce with political jaw-boning, leadership. We give people warnings at first. So I think masks are one thing that we could be doing.”
Neither Gottlieb nor Biden would limit the virus response to more mask-wearing – not by any means. But even when viewed in isolation, Gottlieb’s cautious and indeed extremely nuanced assessment contrasts strikingly with Biden’s practical fetishization of masks, and in particular with the idea of a national mandate – unless you think it would be a game-changer with or even without “fines or stringent enforcement.”
Gottlieb’s views also contrast with Mr. Trump’s long-time mockery of mask-wearing in general. But contrary to mask enthusiasts, and generally consistent with Gottlieb’s caution, there are any number of reputable studies casting doubt on the masks-as-panacea meme – either showing negligible effects outside clinical and other obvious settings, or coming to inconclusive results. (See here for a useful summary.)
And since the Biden stance is so widely echoed by so many leading American influencers (including not only Mainstream Media journalists but figures from the sports and entertainment worlds), and since the former Vice President is equally widely portrayed as the adult in the room, it seems legit to emphasize that his position arguably is no more scientifically grounded than the President’s.
As for me, because I’m a law-abiding person, and these are the Maryland regulations, I wear masks when in indoor public and crowded outdoor spaces, but nowhere else. They’re all cloth of varying thicknesses, though.
First, the public health goal is to get the transmission rate below 1.0.
Top of my list to that end is to avoid superspreader events, such as large family gatherings, indoor rallies, and crowded airport departure lounges. That might reduce the population-wide transmission rate from 2.5 to 1.6 let’s say.
A bad mask might reduce the transmission rate another 2 or 3 tenths of a point.
A good mask would get us close to the public health goal.
I eagerly anticipate a careful field study of mask effectiveness. In the meantime, we have observational reports indicating that masks significantly reduce transmission of coronavirus.
I’m not sure where Dr. Gottlieb gets his estimate of 10 to 30 percent effective.
A more comprehensive estimate of effectiveness of different mask materials is online at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258525804_Testing_the_Efficacy_of_Homemade_Masks_Would_They_Protect_in_an_Influenza_Pandemic
In early April, I hand-stitched my mask from two layers of “tea-towel” which is nominally 73% effective, per layer. My mask is comfortable, durable, easy to wash, suitable for ironing after washing, and stands up to low doses of bleach.
One more simple thought. Every health professional working with COVID patients wants a mask. If Dr. Gottlieb worked a shift in a retirement home with COVID patients, he would wear a mask.
Let’s set aside for a moment the likelihood of a one micron particle passing through a layer of fabric. In the public health world, a consistent message is essential. Ideally, masks should be seen as a gesture of social cohesion, and shared sacrifice.
I can’t think of any reason not to wear a mask.
Alan Tonelson said:
Thanks, Stan. To begin at the end, I can think of lots of reasons not to wear masks in various circumstances – which I’ve written about on this blog. I can also think of lots of reasons to wear masks in various other circumstances, and I do (especially when, as I explained, the law requires). You’ve mentioned some of the more obvious ones – but even then, indoor events can be properly spaced/distanced, closer proximity is possible indoors or outdoors if voice levels and therefore the force behind droplet etc expulsion is reduced, outdoor events can be dangerous if proper spacing is not observed, or voices are too loud. I could go on. Stepping back a bit, the point of this particular post, though, was to challenge Biden’s claims of mask-wearing as a miracle cure. In that vein, the much more cautious assessment put forward by Gottlieb, a strong Trump CCP Virus response critic, seemed worth presenting. Similarly worth presenting IMO was evidence that, contra Biden, there’s substantial uncertainty, at best, in the literature about the effectiveness of mask-wearing – an observation you seem to support with your statement that “I eagerly await a careful field study….” As I see it, that’s exactly what’s been missing, and exactly what’s urgently needed, given all the variables that come into play in real life (like some mentioned above), as opposed to in carefully controlled environments. Finally, it may be that various public health officials have said that the goal is to lower the transmission rate below 1.0. Others have said on many occasions that it’s to “bend the curve” of new infections, to prevent the public health system from being overwhelmed (objectives that are similar but not identical), to focus on the most vulnerable populations, to slow the spread (in absolute terms, as opposed to bending the curve – i.e., slowing its growth), to save lives (of only CCP Virus victims but not of those suffering from other maladies?). As you said, a consistent message is essential – and still Missing in Action. Finally, I don’t buy the idea of masks as a symbol of anything. To me, that’s the kind of confusing and destructive politicization that we’ve seen entirely too much of from all over the political spectrum (as I noted in the post when I criticized Trump’s mocking statements).