May 9, 2020

Masking makes a difference

I have been working with HIV patients since the day when a positive HIV test almost surely meant death. Times were tough then, but there was research being done worldwide to understand more about the virus and to look for treatments. Those of us that treated patients with HIV learned that we needed to keep up with the new data and new treatments to save lives. I had many mentors and helpers to keep me up to date during that period and since then. I worked along side and met some amazing people. I became familiar with the names of these researchers and knew their work. This story about Peter Piot, a Belgian researcher, hit close to home. He survived but has had a rough go of his bout of COVID-19.

New data confirms that wearing a mask makes a difference. This Vanity Fair article explains how it works if at least 80% of the people wear a mask. It is similar to the way that herd immunity works- if enough people do this and we lower the inoculum, less people will get infected. This is not rocket science - a simple thing will save lives and slow the pandemic. Some countries are doing better than others and some states are in better shape than others.

But how do we talk to the skeptics and doubters? It is not easy. Confirmation bias often gets in the way. I am particularly concerned about the videos circulating that are convincing doubters of a great conspiracy. I am sure most of you have been sent a link to at least one. We need to understand their fears and concerns and help guide people to safer behavior. The videos are also scaring people away from wearing masks. It is important to push back, and this article explains why and suggests how. I am not asking you to get in shouting matches over this, just gentle nudges to point out that not everyone agrees. This other article may help your friends understand the video’s limitations. It can be impossible to refute every claim being made, but this article from lays it out so you don’t have to. Reminding people of reliable and safer sources is key. This matters because of the false claims being made that wearing masks increase risks. This matters because we want to cut down on transmissions and keep people safe. These are important new skills we are learning and will be needed as the false information starts flying even more. I definitely need to practice it myself. So easy to cut people off. As if the coronavirus all around us isn’t enough.

Wash your hands and cover your nose.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.