Although it is right next to China (and actually considered part of China if you are these guys), Taiwan has been fantastic in the entire COVID-19 pandemic. As of April 1, the country had only about 300 cases. Despite 23 million residents, Taiwan has fewer COVID-19 patients than Vancouver.
So here is a picture of what Taiwanese people look like in a pandemic.
And this is what Canadians look like in a pandemic.
Do you notice something wrong? It’s true: we don’t wear masks, and despite what you may have heard, including from some of our most trusted medical authorities, you absolutely should be.
Now to be clear; There are a whole host of unmasked reasons why Taiwan is in such good shape. For one thing, they were very aggressive in restricting travel from China from the start. But public masking has always been a major part of Taiwan’s pandemic response plan: as soon as they learned of a new disease in mainland China, Taiwanese authorities immediately ordered the emergency production of 100 million masks per day.
Doctors, nurses, delivery drivers, store clerks: everyone has all the masks they need and public health campaigns to teach them to mask properly.
As for us: Western public health authorities do not fail to advise people to wear masks. They actively tell us not to do it.
It’s the World Health Organization that says “you don’t have to wear a mask.” And here is a particularly unfortunate Tweet from the American Surgeon General: the masks “are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching a coronavirus”. As I’m going to talk a little bit, history’s not going to look nicely at these messages
However, there is a very good reason why you probably shouldn’t be wearing a medical grade mask: a health worker needs it more than you do.
It turns out that the government did not have enough masks available for this pandemic, so doctors and nurses must already reuse their old N95 masks. And if they run out, frontline medical personnel will fight a deadly disease with pads and shoe covers on their faces.
(This is probably a good place to mention that the United States and Canada also sent several tons of medical masks to China a month ago.)
So one of them on your face means one less on the face of a doctor: And we’re screwed up if she gets COVID.
But medical officials are completely wrong to say that masking does not help. It absolutely helps: covering your dirty mouth hole to limit the spread of the disease is not only common sense, it is backed by good science.
The Los Alamos National Laboratory in the United States calculated in 2009 that if only 10% of people wore a mask during an influenza pandemic, cases could decrease by a fifth. Here’s a 2008 Dutch study that found that even if your mask doesn’t fit properly, if you’re in the middle of a pandemic, the result will always be fewer sick and dead. Here’s a 2003 study where they got test subjects to tie t-shirts around their faces and yes, it was better than nothing.
Now let’s take a closer look at the wording from the World Health Organization: if you don’t have symptoms … you don’t need to wear a mask.
This is great and good for a disease like smallpox or the Ebola virus: in these cases, you are not contagious, unless you already have symptoms. But the singular reason why COVID-19 is so deadly is because it infects a whole bunch of people who don’t know they are sick. You or I could have COVID right now, every breath in our mouth is filled with deadly viruses, and we won’t have as much fever.
So the WHO is telling people correctly, “Be careful, because you can still carry this virus even if you don’t have symptoms. At the same time, they also say to people, “Oh, but if you don’t have symptoms, you don’t have to wear a mask. “
Another anti-masking argument that keeps coming up is that it gives people a “false sense of security” and makes them touch their face more. I’m sure they base this on a lot of peer-reviewed data and not just guesswork, right?
Yes, it’s true. There is no actual data to show that the disadvantages of masking outweigh the advantages; the WHO just assumed it was. And good: Newsflash, there are a lot of things we do for our health that can backfire if you don’t do it right. You can still get AIDS if you use a condom. You can still get the flu if you get the flu shot. You can still die in a car accident even if you put on your seat belt. In all of these cases, we are simply telling people to use technology with caution: we are not telling people not to do so, as this could give them a “false sense of security.”
And let’s be clear: it takes a bit of training to wear a mask. If you don’t put it on and take it off properly, and keep your hands clean, you’ll be just as sick. That’s why, if we can go back to Taiwan for a second, they have this crazy public health policy called “teaching people how to wear masks.”
Okay, so maybe I convinced you to wear a mask. But we come back to the problem of lack of supply. The answer is: you create your own. Plans already exist: here is a proactive Indiana health authority who has published guidelines on how to sew washable CDC-compliant masks.
There are currently thousands of Canadians trapped in their homes with sewing machines and fabric stores ready to do anything to help. You put these bubbles on the warpath and we could have masks on every Canadian in a few weeks.
This is what the Czech Republic has done, and that is partly why you do not often hear the words “Czech Republic” when we talk about death from coronavirus. But in Canada and the United States, authorities have simply rejected masking as something that only Asian countries can do.
So the good news is: Hey, there is this super cheap and easy way to fight this horrible disease that ruins everything. The bad news is that a lot of trusted authorities have somehow lied to you about why you shouldn’t.