How Do Face Masks Protect Us? Let Me Paint You A Picture
Now that Wichita Falls has made it a requirement to wear face masks in public people are speaking out. Some love them. Some hate them. Some can't figure out which way to jump because the experts keep telling us something different every day.
Let's try and break this down. At first, people were asking if a face mask would protect them from coronavirus and the answer was "no". That was correct as far as it went. The mask does not protect the person wearing it as much as it protects the people around them. That's why many experts first said they wouldn't help and the same experts are now saying it's important that everyone wear a mask.
Think of it this way. If you and everyone around you are wearing a mask there are two barriers that any droplet of coronavirus will need to get through for another person to be infected. If you're standing six or more feet apart the distance also becomes a barrier. Think of the contagious person as a can of spray paint. When that person sneezes or coughs their germs go out like the drops of paint, putting a mask on the can of paint prevents those droplets from traveling as far or fast as they otherwise would have. The distance between the contagious can of paint and the uninfected person nearby will also cause many of the drops that do get through to fall to the ground. The mask on the uninfected person is a final barrier to prevent those infected drops from finding a new host. As you see, that final mask didn't really do much to protect the person wearing it, but if everyone is wearing a mask we're all much safer.
Those three barriers, a mask on each person and the space between them, will dramatically inhibit the spread of COVID-19. They won't stop it completely, but they will reduce it enough that we can all get out and conduct business with a reasonable expectation of health and safety.
Now perhaps you can understand the apparent reversal in policy from the experts. They're answering a different question. No, the mask will not do a great deal to protect YOU. Yes, everyone wearing a mask will do a great deal to protect ALL OF US. The goal is to slow the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve, not to stop it completely.
Coronavirus looks like it's going to be with us for a long time. Until we have a vaccine or a cure we're all going to have to do things a little differently. That means washing our hands more frequently, keeping a little physical distance between us when we can, and - at least for a while - wearing masks in public. Welcome to the new normal.