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

Teen Initiatives During COVID-19: Young Adults Support Their Communities

My Covid Story

As the pandemic spread, forcing schools and businesses to close in April, two teenagers in Massachusetts found themselves with time on their hands and a pressing urge to use their skills to help others. With 80% of COVID-19 infections presenting as mild or asymptomatic, masks to prevent the emission of potentially infected particles is crucial to slowing the spread of this disease. Noah Lang (high school class of 2021) and Izzy Klein (high school class of 2020 /college 2025) founded businesses and nonprofits with the aim of making masks as accessible as possible to people in their community. Lang founded the nonprofit Masks4Mass to procure and donate masks to organizations like the Boston Rescue Mission, Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House, and high schools in his area as they have been preparing to reopen. Klein started Masks By Izzy to offer deliveries and pickups of her affordable hand-sewn masks and donate proceeds to the Greater Boston Food Bank.

Recently, Covid-recovery.org talked to Noah and Izzy to better understand what inspired each of them, how they remain motivated, and ways that their ventures have helped others.

Getting Started

Noah: I came up with the idea of founding this nonprofit, Masks4Mass, after I realized how difficult it was to obtain masks, especially early on in the pandemic. I was brainstorming ways that I might be able to help my community and facilitate the reopening of schools. I wanted to do something that was different and meaningful. As a result, I founded this nonprofit with the hope of ultimately contributing to halting the spread of COVID-19

Izzy: I’ve been sewing since 4th grade through after school classes with a friend. And I’ve always loved creating things, helping people, and trying to make things accessible. My background is in political and community organizing, and communications. With those things in mind, I wanted to find a way to help people right now — with the immediate crisis. Being able to produce something that gives back, that’s functional, and that’s keeping people safe at the same time that it also benefits my community was my goal.

Initial Steps

Izzy: I started sewing and the first few masks weren’t great, but I definitely had a foundation. I started giving them to family and friends, and they really liked them. I originally did an order form and I would get crazy high demand every week – like 40 orders. It was getting a little hard to keep up because I would take the orders on Monday, work on them throughout the whole week, and arrange for pickup or delivery on Saturdays. I realized that with the growth, it would be good to have a website. Now, we are in the process of making my site not only a place to buy masks but also other things made by different members of my community. In the meantime, given that college for me is now online, I decided to take a gap semester to work on this. I’m hoping to expand; right now we’re doing a lot of bigger orders for smaller businesses and for family events and stuff like that. It’s been really good and I’ve definitely enjoyed being able to meet different members of my community. 

Noah: I’m definitely planning on continuing this initiative past the summer. As long as the  pandemic continues, I want to help and try to find ways to make an impact on our community. I haven’t really set an ultimate goal because I see this as an ongoing process. My biggest goal is to get masks to schools because this is a vital aspect to reopening. If all students were able to have access to masks and personal protective equipment I think opening schools would be a lot easier. However, it’s been challenging because public schools haven’t been very responsive. I’ve been reaching out to people that I already know first: parents of some of my friends, coworkers of my mother and my father, people from my own school, etc. I’ve set up a donation page on my website. That way, even people who don’t know me personally are able to contribute to Masks4Mass. 

Growing Process & Pains

Izzy: Seeing people wearing their masks definitely makes me super happy. It’s a lot of young families who have been telling me that the masks that we make are really affordable. A lot of people who placed orders when the idea was just being formed said things like, “You know, your mask is the only mask my kids will wear because your kid size fits so well.” That is super awesome and gratifying to hear because I know it’s really hard to work with younger children on this. A lot of wonderful friends from school have been delivering masks for me as well, so I can spend more time sewing. I have received help with cutting fabric and taking orders from different YMCA’s. It’s gratifying to have  a lot of friends and family helping out.  

Noah: One of the greatest challenges with this learning process is that it’s the first time that I’ve ever formed a nonprofit. I had  to learn how to incorporate my nonprofit with the Commonwealth of Mass. Also, in order to receive tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) I needed to research and learn how that  works. A smaller-scale challenge has been, again, that public schools have been significantly less responsive than private schools, which is somewhat frustrating. But I’m continuing to try to work my way around that. I’m guessing it’s because they have additional regulations. Another obstacle I’ve had is that some of the masks [we’ve secured have been] pretty low quality. They don’t really seal or fit your face well which allows for openings around the sides of the masks. That kind-of defeats the purpose of the mask, of course. Others are just bad quality in general and that’s something I have to work my way around, too. I have been buying a sample batch of masks before making a bulk purchase. That seems to help  solve the quality control problem.

I have been buying a sample batch of masks before making a bulk purchase. That seems to help solve the quality control problem.

Lessons Learned

Noah: I think one of the things that is extremely important to me and a main takeaway is the importance of community and the willingness to help others. Prior to this, a lot of the work I had done for my community was with my school; this has felt different because it was organic and not a requirement. I think that’s something that I’m trying to tap into — sympathizing with others and willingly helping them out. This organization has helped me solidify that mindset. As a personal thing, the formation of this nonprofit has taught me a lot about the process of how you incorporate a non-profit into the Commonwealth, and the different steps that you need to take in order to have a legal nonprofit and get tax-exempt status. Another aspect that has also been interesting is accounting. Over the past couple months, I’ve done a lot of accounting because of the fundraising. It seems likely that I’ll use many of these skills later on in my life and it’s [an interesting opportunity] to start learning them now. Overall, I think that running this nonprofit is not only a great way to support my community. It has also taught me a lot about nonprofits in general and the importance of taking an initiative to help others.

Izzy: We’ve never really lived through a time like this in recent modern history. So, I think it’s super important to make sure that we are being intentional about helping others. I feel very privileged – which is not necessarily a great feeling – but I think it also gives me this kind of responsibility to give back, because I have the resources to be able to do that. It’s time to just make sure that we are all being mindful with our choices and with our actions. If you are in a position where you’re comfortable right now, and you don’t really have that much worry in your life, start thinking about ways that you can give back. Whether it’s helping at a shelter or food pantry, or donating somewhere, we need to make sure that we are constantly asking ourselves: What are small things that we can do that, in turn, will have a positive effect on society?

Reported by Anoushka Mahendra-Rajah
Edited by Dr. Jacki Hart