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Are masks a good or bad idea during the COVID pandemic?

By Brooke Robinson

We are now more than two months into the global war against COVID-19. As reports of increases in death tolls continue to flood national news stations, the public has continued to find means to mitigate their exposure. After months of battling this relentless virus, the general preventative measures have become widely accepted. While society seems to be relatively unanimous in opinions regarding the measures needed to slow the virus, one major question seems to be creating the divide between consumers and experts alike: Are COVID facemasks a good or bad idea?

At first, the CDC was verbal in their recommendations that those who were not sick refrain from wearing facemasks. They went on to mention that masks are primarily to prevent those who are already sick from spreading germs via mouth or nose. This recommendation was digested differently by consumers. While many neglected the CDC’s advice and continued to protect their faces, others put their faith in the word of the CDC and ceased wearing masks in public.  

As weeks passed by, people in the U.S. noticed numerous headlines from foreign nations advising and in some cases requiring the people of their nation to wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus. Along with this, health experts in the U.S. neglected the advice of the CDC and continued to advise citizens to wear masks. 

Finally, on Friday, April 3, President Trump announced on behalf of the CDC recommending that people in the U.S. now make use of face masks. Unsurprisingly, the public was confused by this message from the CDC which completely contradicted their original advice. Many argue the intention of the CDC behind their original announcement, claiming that the CDC made this statement on the basis of decreasing the public’s demand for masks. Many believe that the CDC in conjunction with other government organizations underplayed the importance of masks in the beginning in order to increase the supply for essential healthcare institutions. 

Putting the economics of masks aside, it goes without question that the utilization of face masks by the public will help to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Countless studies conducted by health experts comment on the danger of asymptomatic virus-carries going in public without masks. An individual that is unknowingly carrying the virus could very well refrain from wearing a mask in public, leading to an unintentional mass spreading of the virus. 

While face masks are most definitely not a substitute to any other precautionary measures regarding the mitigation of the virus’ spread, it is undeniable that they provide more benefits then risks to the public. The masks provide what is known as “source control”, which simply put, contains the virus to the infected individual and/or deflects the entry of germs into the mouth or nose of non-carriers. 

While these masks have been deemed beneficial, it remains crucial that consumers avoid over estimating the quantity needed to protect them. In societal crises such as this, consumers often tend to hoard essentials, leading to a surplus of goods in the hands of some, and a shortage for others. This virus is much different than other national crises’ as it indiscriminately in who, where, and when it will infect. Now more than ever, we must be empathetic in our actions.

Brooke Robinson can be reached at brooke.robinson@spartans.ut.edu

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