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LETTER: Masks and education

"I wonder what would have happened if St. Albert published a pamphlet on how to properly wear a mask?"

During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many rules to keep us safe: good hygiene, hand sanitization, and just common sense prevention practises; social distancing being the most common form of the latter. One of the prevention practices which has become very prevalent today is the wearing of masks. This is because on Aug. 8, St. Albert, along with dozens of other municipalities before and after it, mandated a city bylaw which stated that people cannot go into a public building (with some exemptions) without a mask on so as to stop COVID-19 spread, which had been starting again to rise.

But when I saw the headline in the Aug. 19 edition of the Gazette, “COVID-19 case rise to 14 in St. Albert,” I was shocked. COVID-19 has an incubation period of one to 14 days, with the headline being nine days after the mask mandate; thus it was most probable that the majority of those people caught the virus when everyone was wearing masks! Indeed, when reading the article, my original thought was, “So how are masks stopping the rise of COVID-19?” Because, if I’m reading this right, it is most obvious that they aren’t.

After chewing on this new piece of information for a while, I came up with a conclusion. Masks prevent one person from spreading a virus to another person, but COVID-19 can still be transmitted through the masks from the environment. This means that if someone sneezes or coughs, the mask will contain it, just like what would happen if someone sneezes or coughs in their arm, or shirt. But here is the deal-breaker: COVID is still able to escape through the mask, by other means; and we know that face masks are not good at ventilating, and anything that is in the mask would be recycled back into the body.

So the next question becomes, how does COVID get into the mask? From what we see from the people around us, most are in good health. One thing that I’ve picked up on during outings to the store, or mall, or public gatherings, is that some people touch the middle part of their mask with their hands to take it off. If the COVID-19 virus was on their hands when they touched their mask, it would most definitely get inside.

A study published in 2008 by PubMed showed that the people involved touched their face 16 times per hour. What is the chance that one of those 14 people that contracted COVID touched their face mask with COVID on their hands? Like I said before, COVID would then be recycled in and back out of the body in a continuous cycle. Even a fully healthy person can’t avoid getting COVID if it gets pumped repeatedly through his or her lungs.

Bottom line: face masks might help, or they might do more harm than good. I wonder what would have happened if St. Albert published a pamphlet on how to properly wear a mask? Perhaps the number of cases wouldn’t have risen.

Owen Aguiar, St. Albert

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