Mask Skepticism from a Leftist’s Point of View

Photo by Tamara Gak on Unsplash

Earlier, I’ve posted about my take on lockdown skepticism from a leftist’s point of view; actually, it’s my first post on here. Needless to say, it got a bit of traction. Naturally, it would make sense for me to share my opinions on masks and mask mandates because surely the masks will free us from the lockdowns I’ve opposed to so much, wouldn’t they?

Well, not to surprise you or anything, but I also have issues with mask mandates just like I have issues with lockdowns. Masks, unlike lockdowns, do not shut down schools or work places, do not help in drug addiction relapse, do not cause or accelerate poverty, or literally weld people into their homes (cough, China, cough). But they do have their issues from my leftist point of view (due to wearing masks being touted as a leftist position).

Let’s look at the science (another subject loved by many leftists). Wearing a mask isn’t necessarily a new idea; we can look at the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic as an example. You can argue that masks work since there are many photos of citizens wearing masks in public settings, and there haven’t been many sources on lockdowns during that time. So, would it be true to say masking up worked to slow the pandemic? Maybe not. A source from the University of Berkeley library claims the gauze masks commonly used during those times were “minimally effective”. Now, you can make the argument that healthcare standards were much worse in 1918 than today, so how would this play out in the twenty-first century?

There have been a lot of talk about masks during the 2003 SARS pandemic and whether or not one would be useful to wear. A study done by Sandy McCutcheon claims the effectiveness of masks to be “murky”. He says-

A lot has been written on their performance but a recent Cochrane Review does not strongly advocate their clinical use. They are not as good as we assume, but they do a reasonable job of catching large droplets ejected from our mouth and nose, a bit like a baseball catcher’s mitt. When the role of surgical masks is reversed — to protect the wearer rather than someone else, the picture becomes murky. This role reversal is rarely explained, but the physics is very different. When you breath out the air forms a long plume, but when you breathe in the air moves over the surface of your face. If you are trying to stop contaminated air being breathed in, you not only have to filter the air, but ensure a good seal between the respirator and the face. Normal surgical masks are not designed to provide a good seal.

How could this be? Many people in 2020 have claimed masks were meant to protect the user from getting infected and from infecting other people. If masks were effective in infecting other people, why wouldn’t they be effective on preventing the infection itself? For starters, many surgical masks do not have a good seal between the respirator and the face. When it comes to viruses, the large droplets quickly drop from the air to the ground while microscopic ones tend to linger in the air. Sounds like a good advocacy for wearing a mask, right? Well, the microscopic droplets floating in the air are more prone to dying, thus killing the virus. If we do consider these droplets, then a surgical mask will have a small chance of protecting the wearer from the virus.

Another issue showcased is how good of a fit the mask would be. People have different facial shapes and sizes as they grow, particularly children. There’s also the issue of facial hair growth on a person. With these issues factoring in, they can all prevent a good fit on the wearer, thus making the usage of one difficult. Often, the solution to this problem would be to wear an N-95 mask, but even those have limited protections. With the N-95 mask, a good fit (which is a big “if”) can prevent up to ninety-five percent of particles below the .3 cutoff. Human coronaviruses, meanwhile, are typically around .1 and .2 microns- right below the .3 cutoff. This means that while a company’s mask (if properly fitted) may filter out ninety-two percent of coronaviruses, another one’s may only filter out fifty percent. That’s a pretty big deal of human error.

If you do choose to wear the mask, then you might only be safe for approximately twenty minutes. In a 2003 article of the Sydney Morning Herald dealing with the SARS virus, professor Yvonne Cossart from the University of Sydney claims that the mask is only effective if it’s dry. “As soon as they become saturated with the moisture in your breath they stop doing their job and pass on the droplets,” she added. After you’ve worn your mask for about fifteen or twenty minutes, you’re going to need to change to a cleaner one. The thing is, most people don’t change their masks very often, thus reducing the effectiveness on them. That’s another big deal of human error.

“But those studies were from a long time ago! Surely, science has changed, hasn’t it?” you might be asking. Alright, let’s go back to 2020 and see how effective masks are at preventing transmissions. Actually, let’s go back to April and May of 2020 in Denmark for a study. Almost 5000 adults in this study were asked to go outside for three hours a day following social distancing protocols with either no mask usage or mask usage when outside with other people along with a supply of fifty surgical masks and an instruction for proper usage. When the study was completed, the conclusion was that masks were not that effective in preventing Covid-19 transmission among mask wearers. Yet another big deal of human error.

Speaking of human error, it’s very likely the average citizen walking down the street is not a trained doctor or medical professional. Hell, most of them probably only have a high school level education or community college level education (at the most) about scientific topics, especially viruses. Here’s how to safely wear and take off your mask according to the CDC:

  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before putting on your mask.
  • Put the mask over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin.
  • Fit the mask snugly against the sides of your face, slipping the loops over your ears or tying the strings behind your head.
  • If you have to continually adjust your mask, it doesn’t fit properly, and you might need to find a different mask type or brand.
  • Make sure you can breathe easily.

And here is something the CDC does not recommend you do while wearing a mask:

And on the topic of taking off masks:

  • Place mask in the washing machine (learn more about how to wash masks)
  • Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing and wash your hands immediately after removing.

And (fittingly enough as of this publishing) mask usage during the winter:

  • Change your mask when it becomes wet- a wet mask is harder to breathe through, is less efficient at filtering, and vents more around the edges of the mask.

How many people can you safely say are following those exact directions every day? Do you know anybody who actually follows these guidelines to the very letter? Do you follow them exactly as they’re told? Do you wash your hands before putting on your mask or after? Do you wash your hands after touching your mask? Do you have a fitting mask that fits over your nose without constantly adjusting it? Do you wash your cloth mask after using it? Do you throw your disposable one away after using it because it can be considered biohazard? Can you breathe easily with your mask? From my observations out in the real world and from my own experiences, I think I can safely say that not many people follow every single guideline from the CDC.

Even if every single person does follow every single guideline on mask usage, how long are we expected to wear one? Two weeks? Two months? A hundred days? Even longer? In a similar article of mine, I’ve mentioned how lockdowns had lasted several months longer than the initial “two weeks” we have been promised, and in some places (such as in California) they’re still under lockdown. So how can I be so sure whether a mask mandate will only last a certain amount of days or weeks or months if the goalposts keep moving past its initial deadline? It’s extremely stressful to deal with such uncertainty when it comes to responses to a pandemic, and if there are two things humans cannot stand, they’re uncertainty and stress.

Stress is caused by many things- loss of a loved one, poverty, abuse, past traumas, major changes in normal life with basically no prior warnings or end of the tunnel, lack of social connections due to isolation, lack of social connections due to not being able to read any facial expressions. Did you know that facial expressions are highly important for communication, especially in infants and young children? According to Rebecca Brewer of Royal Holloway University in London, humans process a person’s whole face rather than a single feature. She also adds, “When we cannot see the whole face, such holistic processing is disrupted.” For example, at only a few hours old, newborns will be adept at differentiating between the mother’s face and the faces of strangers; in a matter of days, they should be able to tell the difference between a happy expression, a sad expression, and a surprised expression. By around eight to twelve months, infants can learn what to do in a new situation based on other people’s, especially the mother’s, facial expressions. In fact, many young children look at facial expressions to interpret different situations; that’s how they learn to socialize. Imagine not being able to have the ability to read other people’s emotions because of mask mandates imposed when you were a young child.

“Come on, Emily. Children are resilient. They’re not going to remember this.” Okay, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to be affected by this. Besides communication skills possibly being messed up, children also face other impairments. In many places, children are required to wear a mask whether it be in school, in stores, or anywhere else- some places require children as young as two years to wear a mask! And believe me, these kids are having some serious side effects from constantly wearing a mask. According to this study, 53.3% of kids in all age groups (between zero to eighteen years) experience headaches while wearing the mask, 49.5% have difficulties concentrating, 42.1% experience discomfort, 38% experiment learning impairments, 36.5% experience drowsiness/tiredness, 26.4% report dizziness, and 29.7% experience a shortness of breath. Not only that, but while wearing the mask, 60.4% of children wearing the mask were noticeably more irritated while 49.3% were overall less happy with 25.3% developing new anxieties, and 44% of children do not want to go to school anymore. Meanwhile, when children do catch Covid-19, most of them have mild or no symptoms with hospitalization rates super low, and kids ages 10–14 are less likely to be infected with the virus compared to people twenty years and up. Yeah, seems worth it to cover up half their faces and potentially jeopardize their social skills for years to come.

“Well, you can always just read facial expressions just by the eyes and eyebrows,” someone might say. And I would accept that as a possible solution if not for the impacts mask mandates are having on disabled people, specifically deaf and autistic people. I’ll let you in on a little secret- I am on the autism spectrum. I was diagnosed at around three years old, and the mask mandates have been hell for me. Not only is the mask too uncomfortable for me because of how tight it is (thus making it hard for me to breathe), but I also have an even harder time understanding what people are saying to me when they’re wearing masks. I’m not the only one with this problem; many people with auditory processing difficulties and deaf people have a hard time understanding what masked people are saying to them.

I’ve previously mentioned how humans rely on facial expressions and lip-reading for effective communication. Well, this goes double for deaf people and others with auditory processing difficulties. For those people, especially for sign language usage, facial expressions are a huge deal, and with the masks covering up the lips and the nose, that big significance is lost. With sign language, you also have to touch your face a lot, and that goes against generally accepted guidelines for preventing Covid transmission.

This can also be a big issue for people on the autism spectrum or with other sensory processing disorders like me. 2020 has been hard enough with routine changes and everything closed due to lockdowns; a mask mandate just makes things even harder. Many autistic people also have seizure disorders such as epilepsy, so it’ll be much more difficult to detect a seizure when someone’s wearing a mask. This can bring up more unnecessary anxiety for someone. In fact, even wearing a mask can trigger anxiety for a person on the spectrum due to sensory issues.

Autistic people aren’t the only ones who get triggered by wearing masks. People with other mental illnesses such as anxiety, claustrophobia, and especially post-traumatic stress disorder have a difficult time wearing masks as well. People wearing masks can have their anxiety worsen. This can possibly be due to seeing others wearing a mask, thus reminding you that this is, indeed, a pandemic, the sudden societal shifts to massive mask-wearing, claustrophobia (the fear of confined spaces with no room for escape such as elevators, a small, windowless room, an airplane, or a mask), not being able to read facial expressions (again, a major part of communication and humanity as a whole), other crimes, and past traumas such as rape or sexual abuse.

Mask usage can especially trigger anxiety and trauma episodes for those with PTSD. For some people, masks can remind them of specific traumas such as a bank robber wearing a facial disguise while threatening to kill you. Dawn Nau of Williamsport, Pennsylvania was a bank teller in the early 1990s when a bank robber with a facial mask tried to rob her workplace. “He was wearing a disguise and had a bandana that he pulled up around his face as he was leaving the bank,” Dawn said. Almost thirty years later, she’s still affected by the event, thus making mask-wearing difficult for her even when picking up groceries. Robberies are not the only traumatic experiences that affect mask-wearing among individuals; bushfires in places like Australia and especially abuse by a masked person or while wearing a mask can increase panic attacks when reminded. “Something like a face mask or bandana gets wired with a very dangerous situation, so when something comes up again like the mask, those neurons get fired together,” Kate Thompson, a licensed professional counselor in Washington, Pennsylvania, said, “Anything that the body remembers, that gets triggered. Even though grocery shopping isn’t generally dangerous, someone with a bandana or mask may have fired up that danger reaction.”

“Anything that the body remembers, that gets triggered. Even though grocery shopping isn’t generally dangerous, someone with a bandana or mask may have fired up that danger reaction.”

What was the first thing you used to think of when you thought about masks? Maybe something innocent like Halloween, or maybe something more evil and sinister like a bank robber, another type of criminal, a feeling of being trapped and helpless, or being abused whether it be physically, emotionally, or sexually (such as rape). A mask for some people can remind them of being choked and raped- something no human being should ever go through and is never the victim’s fault. Robbery, abuse, and rape are all considered heinous crimes in most, if not all, countries in the world, yet right now, not wearing a mask is seen as this big no-no. Not wearing a mask may lead these people to be further shamed in stores or public transport or even denied treatment in a hospital. For some people, it’s extremely difficult, even downright impossible, for someone to wear a mask due to past trauma. Should we really shame them and deny them basic things for something that wasn’t even their own fault? That seems to be quite judgmental if we’re supposed to destigmatize mental illnesses and disabilities.

Now, this is not me saying that you shouldn’t wear masks at all. If you feel safer wearing a mask when going out, more power to you. That should be your choice to make. However, don’t make masks mandatory just for basic things, and especially don’t judge or shame people who are unable to wear a mask. You don’t know exactly what they’ve been through.

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Emily Alexandra

Emily Alexandra

Just some autistic person wanting to write and write. I also like to draw and have a cat and dog that are my life. I publish on 8th, 18th, and 28th every month.