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EDITORIAL: Masks no cure-all, but they do have role in prevention

Updated October 29, 2020 - 10:34 pm

Coronavirus cases are climbing again in the United States, although deaths as a percentage of confirmed cases continue to decline. The debate over how governments should respond will continue regardless of who wins the presidential election.

A big part of the discussion is the value of face masks. Public health experts at first issued conflicting advice about masks, but the consensus now is that they do have value. For instance, a Vanderbilt study released this week found that hospitals in Tennessee saw much higher admission rates among patients who came from counties without mask requirements.

Other factors could be at play, too, obviously — including the quality of certain types of face coverings. The science on masks is evolving as more comprehensive studies examine the issue. But contrary to what some mask advocates claim, face coverings are no panacea for combating the pandemic. “Health officials and political leaders,” Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo of UCLA’s school of medicine wrote for The Wall Street Journal this week, “have assigned mask mandates a gravity unsupported by empirical research.”

Yet even Dr. Ladapo concedes that data show states with mask mandates performed slightly better in terms of limiting confirmed cases than states without such restrictions, although the difference was only 2 percent.

But a small improvement can increase progress in the community as a whole over time. That’s something young Americans should remember even if they are far less likely to suffer ill effects from the coronavirus. A recent survey by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that those between the ages of 18 and 29 were less likely to wear a face covering than others.

The effectiveness of masks is maximized indoors, Dr. Ladapo notes, and most Nevada businesses now require masks for entrance. The number of people wearing face coverings has increased in recent months, according to the Pew Research Center. The Pew survey, conducted in August, found 85 percent of adults said they wore a mask all or most of the time when leaving their home. That was up 20 percentage points from just a month earlier.

As colder weather moves in across the country, common-sense prevention measures become more important when it comes to slowing the spread of COVID-19. Mask-wearing won’t in and of itself defeat the virus, but — unlike draconian lockdowns — it’s a relatively painless tactic to help mitigate outbreaks. If you’re one of the few who still resists donning a face covering when venturing out, you should reconsider — particularly when you’ll be indoors near other people. It’s the right thing to do.

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