Following Japan’s Lead Would Get Us Out and About

Japan has not enacted any lockdowns like we’ve seen in the U.S. The country has had 577 deaths from COVID-19. The U.S. has had more than 76,032 deaths. When you adjust for population, they have Japan’s death rate is two percent of America’s. The difference between these countries might lie in how many people wear masks. A new study from UC Berkeley has found that if we followed their example, we would see infect rates drop by more than 90 percent.

One reason is that nearly everyone there is wearing a mask,” said De Kai, an American computer scientist who works at both UC Berkeley and the Hong Kong Univ. of Science and Technology.

Japan hasn’t shut down its subways, bars and they don’t do contract tracing to find out who might have been near an infected person. According to the UC Berkeley team, if 80 percent of the U.S. wore masks, infections would drop to one 12th of the current rate.  

The amount of back and forth about masks and their effectiveness is why the scientists wanted to look into it. Masks can serve two purposes: to protect the wearer and protect other people from the person in the mask. Because masks need to be fitted well and put on and taken off in a precise way to protect the wearer, it is unlikely that anyone in the normal population is being protected by their own masks. Medical grade respirators can protect the wearer but not a mask made from a t-shirt. However, any covering over a wearer’s mouth protects those around them. The mask keeps your germs in, not another person’s out.

Imagine a garden hose, if you spray it at someone, they’ll get wet, if they are wearing a towel, they will still get wet. But, if you cover the nozzle with a towel and then point it at someone, the water won’t spray anywhere near as far, and the person won’t get wet. The towel doesn’t prevent someone from getting wet if they’re wearing it, but it will stop the spray from traveling when it’s over the nozzle. That’s what masks do. Coughing, breathing, talking can cause the virus to leave your mouth/hose. By placing the towel over your hose, you protect others and, when other people with hoses do the same, they protect you.

A simple cotton mask will prevent you from spraying the virus from your saliva to others around you by as much as 99 percent. Even if you are asymptomatic, you can spread the infection. The model showed that if 80 percent of people were wearing masks that were 60 percent effective, we could stop the spread.

What’s most important about wearing masks right now,” said Guy-Philippe Goldstein, an economist and cybersecurity expert who worked on the research, “is that it works, along with social distancing, to flatten the curve of infections as we wait for treatments and vaccines to be developed — while also allowing people to go out and some businesses to reopen.”

Hearing this news is heartening. If we all pull together, we can protect each other. But, the researchers worn, we need to be working together on this. 80 or 90 percent of people have to wear masks, or the risk is still too high, and the spread continues. “If you get down to 30 or 40%, you get almost no [beneficial] effect at all,” said De Kai. Like everyone else in this country, our team wants to get back to living life!
May 13, 2020
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