A Thin Cloth Line: Debunking the Myths Surrounding Masks

The use and effectiveness of masks have been questioned by those who do not believe they are necessary – often referred to as “anti-maskers.” Some argue that masks don’t properly filter the virus and others claim that they restrict proper airflow. These positions are based on pseudo-science and have led down a divisive, if not dangerous, path to rejecting the wearing of masks. Research and analysis consistently support that use of masks slows the spread of COVID-19 and saves lives. 

One interesting way that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently addressed these concerns was to evaluate, and then publish a scientific report, detailing how masks and face coverings were able to contain the spread of COVID-19 for a couple of hairstylists while interacting with their clientele.

Two Symptomatic Hairstylists Avoid Spreading COVID-19 to Clients

Conducted in Springfield, Missouri, a real world experience presented an opportunity to assess whether masks successfully prevented the spread of COVID-19 from two hairstylists to 139 of their clients. Both the hairstylist and the person receiving a haircut wore masks or face coverings during the appointments. Each stylist wore double-layered cotton face masks. The hairstylists were both symptomatic while seeing these 139 clients (mean age of 52 years and all willingly seeing the stylist without knowing their COVID-19 status). Despite having some typical, yet mild, respiratory symptoms, like cough and congestion, neither hair stylist had been tested for coronavirus when they saw these particular clients. Haircut appointments lasted for an average of 19 minutes. 

Once the hairstylists learned that they tested positive for COVID-19 (after 8 days of symptoms for one of the stylists, and 5 days of symptoms for the other), they stopped seeing clients  and self-quarantined. The Greene County Health Department in Missouri contact-traced all 139 clients that were exposed to the stylists, recommended they quarantine for 14 days, and offered free testing to all. Of the nearly 50% who agreed to receive a nasopharyngeal swab test, all of them tested negative for COVID-19. 

There were also no respiratory symptoms reported by any of the 139 clients, or their secondary groups, such as family and friends following exposure to the hairstylists. The county health department was able to interview 104 of the identified clients, which allowed for supplementary data to be acquired too, such as age, duration of appointment, and type of face covering used. The only people identified who developed COVID-19 symptoms and/or tested positive for the virus were the immediate housemates of one of the hairstylists. 

Through the use of face coverings, two stylists who were both symptomatic and COVID-19 positive did not transfer the virus to their clients during their respective appointments.

This study bolsters other scientific evidence corroborating the use of face coverings, whether homemade or surgical, in slowing the spread of COVID-19. It is remarkable, and reassuring, that the use of simple face coverings prevented the transmission of the COVID-19 virus from two symptomatic hair stylists to their clients in close proximity.

This study bolsters other scientific evidence corroborating the use of face coverings, whether homemade or surgical, in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

The Data Have Been Consistent

The results of this study parallel previous observational data on the effectiveness of masks. An analysis of “194 countries… found a negative association between duration of a face mask [and other] polic[ies] and per-capita coronavirus-related mortality.” This means that the longer that a country has had a mask wearing policy, the fewer overall deaths and the lower the mortality rate in that country. In addition, countries that did not recommend face masks saw a COVID-19 related mortality rate increase of “54.3%…compared with 8.0% for countries with masking policies.”

An updated count from this same research, along with assessment of other protective measures, compared countries with mask mandates to countries without mask requirements. That gap in mortality rate expanded even further: in countries where citizens wear masks, the per capita coronavirus mortality, since the start of the pandemic, increased by almost 16% each week compared with 62% per week in countries where citizens do not wear masks. In America, this likely translates into parallel differences from state to state — where mask wearing is standard, regulated, and/or culturally accepted versus those where they are not. 

Collectively, these studies affirm that face masks effectively slow the spread of the virus and should be used as a deterrent for the current, and possibly future, pandemics. If you still have friends or family members who don’t believe or consider themselves “anti-maskers,” try sharing this video from Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) scientists called “It’s Ok to be Smart.” PBS explains why and how masks work to protect all of us. Together, we can debunk mask myths, protect one another, and curb the spread of COVID-19. 

Written by Robert Shepard
Edited by Dr. Jacki Hart