The Great Mask Debate


Since masks entered our everyday lives last spring, there has been ongoing debate surrounding their effectiveness against the COVID-19 virus and their impact on our society. Some boycott it by never leaving their houses, while others wear them even on their couch at home. Some people wear gas masks, and others wear homemade masks made of old t-shirts. It’s time we get right down to it: what’s the deal with masks?

There has been some confusion on the topic of masks for some time now. Much of the confusion is caused by the CDC changing their mask-wearing guidelines in the midst of the pandemic. Originally, they stressed that masks should only be worn by those showing symptoms of COVID-19. Months later, after researching the way that the virus was spread and discovering that asymptomatic cases could also be contagious, they changed their tune. Now the public as a whole is being asked to wear masks.

The CDC promotes masks as an effective source control when it comes to people who may have the virus, saying that everyone should, subsequently, wear a mask in order to prevent unknowing, asymptomatic cases from further spreading the virus. Masks have been greatly heralded as a safe way to meet in large groups, and schools all over the country, like our own, have started up again with a mask requirement. Many doctors have spoken up, saying that they are appalled by the resistance in America to the mask requirements all over the country. But what if the resistance has more reason behind it than just our natural American stubbornness?

At my church, there was a mask mandate for a number of months in order to allow people to come without having to fear the spread of the virus. Masks were handed out at the doors, and people were socially distanced within the pews. Although the mandate was intended to decrease the concerns of the attendees, multiple families within the church chose to boycott the mask mandate by refusing to return until the mandate was lifted. Some argued that masks were a form of fear-mongering by both politicians and the press. Others stated that masks simply don’t work.

Annette Eimers, a member of one of the families boycotting the mandate, explains, “Originally we were concerned like everyone else about COVID, but as the numbers came in we realized that the death count is nowhere near the 5-10% death rates we were initially told about. People will say that young, healthy people can get the virus and die, but they’re few and far between. I’m just not worried about that.”

It’s not just an inflated death rate that makes people more skeptical about masks. A study from the University of New South Wales shows that cloth masks actually increase the risk of respiratory infection.

Professor Raina MacIntyre, head of UNSW’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine, said, “We should be cautious about cloth mask use in healthcare settings, particularly high-risk situations such as emergency departments, intensive care, paediatric or respiratory wards. Despite more than half the world using cloth masks, global disease control guidelines, including those from the World Health Organisation, fail to clearly specify conditions of their use. These guidelines need to be updated to reflect the higher infection risk posed by cloth masks, as found in our study.”

Eimers clarifies about her family’s boycott, “I social distance, but I don’t wear a mask that isn’t doing anyone any good… People need to feel that they’re doing something to protect themselves, but most people are just increasing their risk of infection by touching their mask constantly and then touching other things, and not sanitizing their hands with proper sanitizer and proper amounts of sanitizer. It lulls them into a false sense of security and keeps them from taking actual precautions to avoid sickness. I, personally, will not lie to people and let them think that they’re safer than they are, or that they’re in more danger than they’re in.”

Respiratory infection is not the only downside to wearing a mask all day; it is also stifling to your skin and the oils on your face, making acne, or “maskne,” a common occurrence. Dehydration is another concern, as many of the school’s sports teams are discovering. The cross country team was told to drink almost double the amount of water they would normally drink to make up for the problems caused by the mask, which is a problem in and of itself when it is more difficult to drink water in the first place while wearing a mask.

So what can we gain from all of this? It’s simple; masks work, if they’re medical. Some of the homemade masks accepted by the mandates are the very opposite of helpful. Masks that are not N95 may be able to decrease the chances of the people around you getting sick, by about 30%, but they are also increasing the risk of the wearer. Do not make the assumption that because you are wearing a mask, social distancing is unnecessary, make sure that you don’t let your mask stop you from drinking plenty of water, and don’t skip on your skin care routine. But most importantly, don’t let fear control your actions. In the case of such a worldwide emergency, we should make decisions based on logical conclusions and our care for other people, but not fear. Fearful minds make bad decisions, so go out and do your research before you take either side on the great mask debate.