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    The Further Adventures of the Facemask

    November 2020
    In March 2020 i published an article titled The Bizarre Adventures of the Face Mask. I was honestly amused by the debate about facemasks. So many people (of all political creed) were shouting "Stop wearing masks! They are useless!" on social media. I wish i had taken screenshots. Most of them probably went back and deleted their posts of March. Eight months later there isn't a single country where facemasks are discouraged. In many countries, provinces and cities they are actually mandatory in stores and public spaces. Nonetheless, the most ardent supporters of disinformation czar Donald Trump still dispute their efficacy and/or legitimacy.
    And that too is comical. It is comical because it is dejavu. The debate on the facemask reminds me of the angry resistance to wear seat belts when they became mandatory in 1968 and the angry resistance to the "No Smoking" signs in offices, restaurants, buses, trains and airplanes that started appearing in the 1970s. I still remember the many arguments spread by word of mouth about how seat belts were actually dangerous and that cigarettes were actually healthy. Countless stories circulated about people strangled by seat belts and about centenaries who had been chain smokers all their lives. I am sure there are cases in which indeed the seat belt caused problems, and there are certainly many smokers who lived a long life (see Japan's life expectancy). But eventually the new generations found better things to do than argue about seat belts and "no smoking" signs, and today hardly anybody gets angry when they see a "no smoking" sign on an airplane or even in a government building (where the sign is paid with their taxes), and it is common practice not to smoke in other people's homes.
    Cigarettes probably killed very few non-smokers. They mostly killed smokers. Second-hand smoke may cause cancer, but in rare cases. The real reason why we don't like smokers in closed environments is simpler: most of us don't like the smell anymore. Once you remove the mythological aspect of smoking (largely created by Hollywood movies), a cigarette is just a bad smell.
    Unfortunately the problem with facemasks is bigger. If you don't wear a facemask you may indeed kill someone, and not 20 years later, but just a few weeks later. The antimask movement is causing way more deaths and way more damage to the economy than any other protest movement of our time. It is not clear to me why police are authorized to use tear gases against "Black Lives Matter" protesters in Portland and other cities but they are not authorized to enforce the facemask mandate with tear gases if necessary.
    I don't remember if the seat belts and the cigarettes were also politicized at the time the way that Donald Trump and other neofascists politicized the facemask.
    When Trump is gone, hopefully the facemask will not be politicized anymore. Unfortunately, millions of neofascist Trump supporters (not only in the USA) embraced the anti-facemask campaign as a sort of religious crusade and many of them will lose face if they admit that it was a silly and even criminal crusade. But at least we won't have a president who personally politicizes something as harmless as a facemask and turns it into the casus belli for a veritable civil war. The whole farce about the facemask cost quite a few lives in the fight against the Trump virus, the virus that Trump helped spread all over the American continent. If the USA had simply done what China and Taiwan did, and everybody wore a mask from the beginning (January 20, when the first case was identified in the USA), most likely the USA would be in the same situation as China and Taiwan, or at least as South Korea (that identified its first case on the same day as the USA): work and school would be 90% back to normal, and the damage to the economy would be minimal. The comical anti-facemask crusade has instead cost hundreds of thousands of life. When i wrote The Bizarre Adventures of the Face Mask eight months ago, i was amused. Now we are burying the bodies. Comedy often turns into tragedy.
    Updates after November 2020

    January 30, 2021: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandates that all travelers within the USA wear facemasks whether traveling by airplane, bus, train or boat.

    Lo and behold, on 2 September 2021 even Fox News published a study by Stanford Univ showing the effectiveness of face masks (Fox News commentators had been from the beginning the most vicious critics of face masks).

    Update of September 2021. Shocking. I remember very well when, in February and March 2020, people were insulting me for suggesting that everybody should wear a face mask. I wish i had taken screenshots of all the Facebook and Twitter posts that shouted "Masks are useless!" and "Stop wearing masks!"

    February 2023

    The polemic on face masks never ended. The discussion about these $1 objects became so polarized that opposition to it became a religious crusade. In 2023 a British study (a randomized study) seemed to prove that mask mandates were useless. Of course, people immediately took to the social media to declare "it is proven that face masks are useless". The study was actually about mask mandates, not about masks. Masks are obviously useful (for any airborne disease). The study simply tells us if, three years later, there is a difference in covid infections rates between the places that had mask mandates and places that didn't. In many places the study answers "yes". It is no surprise that in other places the answer is "no". First of all, mask mandates were not enforced (except in China, where in fact for some time there was indeed "zero covid"). All it takes to spread the disease is a few individuals who don't wear the mask despite the mandate. Second, the places that didn't mandate masks did have a much higher covid death rate... for a while. Then the virus spread to every corner, regardless of what had been done in 2020. So it's no surprise that three years later the mask mandates have not made a difference. This has nothing to do with how effective a mask is to block an airborne disease. See also this good summary of that study. Saying that we shouldn't have mask mandates because they don't work when people don't obey them is like saying that drivers should not wear seatbelts because seatbelts donít work when they are not used.

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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