THE BENEFIT OF WEARING A MASK

There is a lot of controversy on mask-wearing. As a surgeon, I wore a mask almost every day of my working life (44 years), usually all day, and amazingly I am still alive. Historically the mask dates back to 1899. Paul Berger, a French surgeon who pioneered the forequarter amputation, removing the shoulder and arm as the last resort to cure a malignancy involving that part of the anatomy, who said, “ For several years I have been worried as to the part that drops of liquid projected from the mouth of the operators or assistants may exercise on the outbreaks of infections!” Not surprisingly, surgeons, who are usually not a very agreeable group, laughed at him, similar to what is bantered about in current public discussions by some senators and supreme court justices, to the public that is annoyed by the infringement on our rights to spew infectious virus on our fellow humans. The ranking surgeon of the time, Jan Mikulicz-Radecki, published a paper agreeing with Berger that set the tone. From then on, all surgeons worldwide have been wearing masks for the last 120 years, whether they liked it or not.

For those of you who object to mask-wearing, I would like to ask you if you would object to a surgeon operating on you and refusing to wear a mask, regardless of the civil rights of the surgeon to spew spit into your wound? And there is no question that coughing, sneezing, even talking sprays out droplets of bodily fluids, the size of which depends on how forcefully you exhale.

The current standard argument  is “what does the science say – follow the science!”  So what does the science say? In the most extensive peer-reviewed Yale-Stanford study from Bangladesh, done to date involving 350,000 subjects, it was established without doubt that mask-wearing in a third of the population reduces the spread of a virus by 11%. Now that is not a whole lot, but if you extrapolate that to 100% of the people wearing masks, you reduce spread by a third, now you are making an impact. Reducing spread by a third is certainly better than nothing at all that is engendered by not wearing a mask. Surgical masks are better than cloth masks. And that is what science says. Masks do work, just not as well as we would like. If you choose not to believe those numbers, you will have to find a more extensive study with more than 350,000 people. 

There is another aspect to masks. If the majority wear masks, which suggests they believe it makes a difference, and a few objectors go maskless, what message do those rebels send? It is a little bit like the folks that carry swastika flags to the 4th of July celebrations. It is meant to insult, incite, and confront. Common courtesy and wisdom would dictate that should not be done! Good manners and a little bit of chivalry is what is needed here.