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The Corona Files: To Mask or not to Mask? That is the question!

(Last Update: 22 July 2020)

The amount of misinformation that is spread in connection with Covid-19 is unbelievable and it doesn’t matter if it is governments or news media outlets or hordes or attention seekers on YouTube. Misinformation, sometimes accidentally, other times intentionally, is everywhere. It gets really bad on Facebook when our soon-to-be-FORMER Facebook “friends” blindly spread misinformation while trying to “convince” us with their “I have done my research” nonsense. :-(

To help with some facts in this factless time and because a lot of people have asked me in the last few days, I have gathered what is known about masks:

1) Is the wearing of masks mandatory in Ireland?
Despite some news websites announcing already on 17 July that mask have to be worn in shops and some radio stations claiming the same on 20 July, it is (as of 22 July) NOT mandatory yet to wear masks in shops or indoor venues in Ireland. But it is mandatory to wear masks on public transport.

2) Will it become mandatory to wear masks in shops?
“Mandatory” means that it is a legal obligation. This requires a piece of law to be enacted by the Oireachtas. The government has given indications that they want to make it a legal requirement and that they are working on it. But they haven’t indicated when that piece of law will be be completed. So therefore it is VERY likely that the government will enact a law that will make it mandatory. But until then it is just a strong recommendation by the government.
The government says on gov.ie at the time of writing this post: “Wearing a cloth face covering is also recommended in situations where it is difficult to practise social distancing, for example in shops. Wearing of cloth face coverings may help prevent people who do not know they have the virus from spreading it to others.”
Note the “MAY”!

3) Could shops make it a requirement to wear masks even before it is mandatory?
Shops have the right to refuse admission and for that reason it is possible that some shops will not let you in without a mask EVEN if there is no legal requirement to wear masks. It seems somewhat unlikely that larger shops will go down that route, but it is possible.

4) Why is the government considering this now?
This is one of the mysteries of Covid-19. At a time when the virus was a lot more rampant than now, we were NOT advised to wear masks, but now we are. At that time we were even told that masks do NOT protect and suddenly they do!? This certainly does not make sense! The right thing would have been to make it at least a recommendation or strong advice back in March. Certainly while visiting shops during the lockdown.
Most European governments told us at that time that wearing a mask doesn’t help, but now at the tail end of the first wave of Covid-19, they have suddenly changed their mind. It would be great if the governments explained that turn around so that we feel like we are treated with more respect than just stupid underlings, but most governments are not so good at that.

5) Does the wearing of masks even make sense?
Yes, it does! If someone is infected, then wearing a mask can reduce the spread of the virus. It doesn’t completely stop the breathing out of virus (especially if it is one of these leaky Operation Theatre masks that many people still wear), but even with a bad mask it a) reduces the spreading of virus material and it also redirects it away from a “frontal attack” to a more redirected trickle. Large droplets are caught by the mask, small droplets (aerosol) still can get out, but that reduction can be crucial.
If you are not infected, then wearing a mask CAN reduce the risk of infection to a degree. Not a huge degree, but the big droplets that someone sneezes or coughs in your face will be caught by the mask and that helps.
During the whole Lockdown and post lockdown period, not a single person ever coughed or sneezed at me in a shop, so realistically, the self-protection aspect of a mask is probably very small. The “protecting others if you are infected”-aspect is MUCH bigger, especially during the short phase where you might be infected and don’t know it yet.

6) What about all the studies that tell us masks don’t work?
There is a significant number of studies that indicate that masks are not providing the level of protection our governments and their government advisors claim there is. And even the WHO seemingly has released statements that very much question the efficacy of masks. But we have to consider the context! In a scientific context an efficacy of 2-40% is laughable and would not be sufficient. But in a context where the risk is quite low, reducing the risk even further with the relatively harmless procedure of wearing a piece of cloth in front of your face is still a SORT of protection.

7) But how high is the infection risk at the moment really??
On 20 July, the deputy chief medical officer in Ireland announced that in the last 2 weeks 270 new cases with Covid-19 infections were detected. If we assume that there is still a relatively large amount of non-detected Covid-19 cases and we therefore multiply this figure by 10, we might have 2700 active cases. (All the other previously reported cases can be assumed as non-active (healed or dead) since they are well older than 2 weeks.)
With a population of 1,904,806 in Greater Dublin and 2700 Covid-19 cases, that means that approximately 1 in 705 people is infected in Dublin at the moment.
I went to a supermarket last weekend and I probably walked by 30 people or less. That means I will have to go 24 times to the supermarket before I will meet ONE person that is infected with Covid-19. That is a LOW risk!
Also consider that encountering an infected person, doesn’t mean that you are then automatically exposed to a high risk. Ina supermarket you just pass each other, you don’t breath, cough or sneeze in other people’s faces normally.
So actually, the REAL risk of getting infected through casual encounters with infected people is VERY VERY small.

8) Is wearing a mask dangerous?
No! Some odd people (even including some doctors, who should know better) try to spread the incorrect information that an infected person will get worse if they re-breath-in the virus load that they just wanted to spread into the world when the mask prevented them. Keep in mind that they are already full of virus themselves, so it is not that they will re-infect themselves in any way or that they will have MORE virus after re-breathing-in virus.
The other claim that is made is that masks will reduce the oxygen intake and cause a shortage of oxygen because “used air” is re-breathed-in again. A simple Blood Oxygen Meter shows that is is total nonsense. The oxygen in the blood does NOT sink, so the claim is rubbish. Also keep in mind that doctors and nurses wear sometimes masks for large parts or all of their shifts and we have not heard from too many oxygen deprived doctors in operation theatres close to fainting while operating on patients. Or have we?
And finally: Since mask wearing will only be required in public transport and at inside venues (e.g. shops). The time that most people spend with a mask on is quite limited. So even IF there was an oxygen or re-infection issue, just limit that time to a minimum and you will NOT suffer any adverse health effects.

9) Some say that only people FULL of fear wear a mask! But that’s not me!
When you wear a seat-belt in car or wear a bike helmet OR wear a condom, that doesn’t mean that you are full of fear and are therefore in any way a weak person. Prevention against a possible risk doesn’t make you a weak person! So tell the people that want to intimidate you to F off!

10) Are we told to wear masks to train us to be subservient underlings?
No! But you are on to something! We are told to wear masks because our political leaders are afraid to make decisions that could result in deaths. So they follow the “advice” of the doctors and scientists they have chosen to advise them. But doctors and scientists are not necessarily known for being risk takers. So they are over-careful because they also know that they could lose their role as advisor. Nobody is prepared to take responsibility for a decision that COULD result in some deaths. And to ensure that we don’t question the orders the politicians like giving to us, they use the tried and tested strategy of spreading fear about the dangers of the virus even if only 1 in 705 people is actually infected.

11) So does it make sense to wear a mask?
If you are ever told to wear a mask outdoors, then please object/rebel/complain and refuse. In Spain it is mandatory to wear a mask even if you are outside and nobody is around and that is TOTALLY ridiculous.
But we are not that far in Ireland and HOPEFULLY we will never get there.
If you are the type of person that plugs out the TV from the wall socket in the evening, then you should wear a mask IMMEDIATELY. (And there are still LOTS of people who do that – the TV thing! – every night because their grand mother did it.) But seriously, wearing a mask is good for you and for others and you won’t feel comfortable without a mask anyway.
If you have the SLIGHTEST expectation that you might be infected, please wear a mask to protect others. If there is a POSSIBILITY that you are infected and you don’t know yet, then wear a mask for others even if you are happy to remain unprotected from their potential infection.
And that leaves the people that are happy to do (safe) parachute jumps and bungee jumps. People who are risk aware but not overly worried! I know it is a pain to wear a mask if the risk is JUST 1 in 705 to meet an infected person.
But consider this: Two weeks ago, I got a cold! Despite the 2m distance an the hand washing and the no-hugging etc. I got a cold or flu. I got tested for Covid-19 because my doctor thought it is a good idea in the current times and I agreed. The result was negative as him and me had expected. But obviously something had caused my flu symptoms despite all social distancing. I will never know how I got this cold or flu, but I know that viruses only transfer between people and I was not (knowingly) in contact with ANYONE. If I can get a cold/flu with NO contact, then I also could get the Coronavirus. :-O

12) Bonus question: Should I trust the Irish government (or any other government) and should I trust the advisors to the Irish Government?
This is a very good and important question and the answer is an emphatic: NO!!!
No Taoiseach, no Health Minister and no Chief Medical Officer has ANY experience with what they make rules or laws for or what they advise on. They are guessing as much as anybody else in the world. I do believe that they are trying to do their best, but they are not doing it in the best possible way. Spreading fear, feeding the fire of uncertainty and worry and enacting nonsensical and unnecessarily draconian measures with extremely dubious effectiveness is NOT the best way.
So you should question everything that comes from them. If they can provide a good explanation for what they are doing then we might have to go along for now even if we possibly find out in 6-12 months that they were very wrong. But if they can’t provide an explanation then send them back to the drawing board!

Disclaimer: I am not trained as a doctor or as an epidemiologist or as a virologist, so I have the same level of training in that area as most of our politicians. I also have not done any research into the Coronavirus. All I am doing is objectively analysing and critically questioning the information that is provided to us.

The Corona Files: We did go too far!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a poem that is called “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and when I went to school, we had to learn it. I did exceptionally badly that day and got the worst mark on reciting the poem that I ever got in my whole school “career”. So it is a poem that I will never completely forget. One of the lines is “Die Geister die ich rief, werd ich nicht mehr los.” and that translates to “The spirits that I called, I can’t get rid of anymore.”

We are clearly still in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis (some think we are only at the beginning of it!), but a lot has happened and I am genuinely and deeply concerned about the long term effects that policy decisions had already and will have on our behaviour to each other.

The “We are all in it together!” is long forgotten and fear and panic has replaced the we-will-fight-through-this attitude from before.

I came across a whole range of scenarios that worry me! Here are just a few examples:

1) The Police State

Over the Easter weekend when the much stricter restrictions where in place a friend of mine and his partner went on a food shopping trip for his and her parents who are elderly and are cocooning. Because they live a little bit apart at the outskirts of Dublin, they had to travel a bit to shops and then to deliver the food. On their way, they were stopped at SIX garda checkpoints and they were never able to deliver the food. On one of the checkpoints an ill informed garda gave them nearly the full “E-E-E-E” treatment that was used as garda strategy that weekend. The four Es is Engagement / Explain / Encourage / Enforcement. (www.rte.ie/news/coronavirus/2020/0409/1129677-what-to-expect-from-gardai-during-covid-19-restrictions/)

They were told that they are NOT allowed to drive to their parents to bring them food despite the fact that “caring for the elderly” was clearly classed as ESSENTIAL during the Covid-19 crisis. They were also threatened with legal action if they don’t turn around. Nonsensically, the garda told them that instead they should bring all their shopping to the next garda station so that the food would be delivered by gardai to their parents. (There was no answer on how to deal with frozen food.)
Maybe this was just ONE garda on a power trip or an extremely badly briefed garda? But at another one of the six checkpoints, they were berated by a garda because two people (who live together!!!) were in the same car. :-O There is no rule or law in Ireland that disallows that.
By the way: They had to give up and turn around to avoid being prosecuted or arrested…and the parents didn’t get the food for Easter!

2) Inexcusable Misinformation

A situation that was not related to Covid-19 forced me to be in A&E in a Dublin hospital 2 weeks ago. I was there with my partner and as it is normal and natural during the waiting period and between examinations we sat next to each other and talked about what happened. The shift of the office based A&E staff had changed and the new admin at the reception had taken over. 10 minutes later he spotted us and came running out from behind his glass screen, shouting at me for not keeping a social distance. I explained to him that this was my partner who I live with. But that didn’t stop him! Instead he got even more excited and told me that this does not matter in the slightest. We are in a hospital and therefore have to keep a distance of 2m from each other.
He either didn’t understand the rules OR he was taught nonsensical rules and didn’t question them.

3) Blinding Fear

Someone I am “friends” with on Facebook wrote in a Facebook conversation
during the week:

“If people meet and don’t keep the distance at the moment, they could infect others. The infected people could die. So meeting others is akin to murder!”

I am lost for words in this case. How can any sane and sensible person draw that conclusion?? The person who wrote that clearly lost all reason and I can only conclude that this is caused by a blinding fear.

4) Attacking the people who help!

Luckily we have not reached the lowest of lows in Ireland: In the UK, Health Care workers are being attacked and abused for being “virus spreaders”. Tires of ambulances are slashed and cars of hospital employees are damaged. The ITV news on 15 April had this report:

How can it come to this? My guess is: Irrational fear, stirred by sensational media reports. This is shocking stuff!

5) No Way Out

At some point in the not toooo distant future, we will have to go back to offices again and kids will have to go to schools. But the virus will not be gone! So how will we deal with that?
In Denmark, where they are a little faster with lifting restrictions and thought about letting young children return to school first, rapidly 18,000 parents declared that they will refuse letting their kids go back to school.

How will we deal with a loosening of the restrictions? Will we also refuse to go to work? Let kids go to school? If a vaccine is another 12-18 months away, will some of us lock themselves in at home and refuse to go to work until then? How will YOU react when you have to go back to work? Enter a room again with other people inside?

In my opinion, we have definitely overdone it! We have over-egged the pudding!! And it is all based on fear that has been whipped up by our authorities, lead by the government and advised by medical officers and epidemiologists.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the lockdown was the right thing to do, BUT what did the Taoiseach do to “incentivise” the country? He said on 09 March that in Ireland 85,000 people could die from the Coronavirus. (www.independent.ie/world-news/coronavirus/up-to-85000-irish-people-could-die-from-coronavirus-in-worst-case-scenario-taoiseach-indicates-as-three-more-diagnosed-39029363.html) This was not wrong information, but it was information that was used to get us worried so that we would adhere to the restrictions.

Later on, language was used that suggested to us that our lives were in serious and immediate danger. All measures were “to save lives”. “Stay home stay safe!!” This is also not wrong, but we can’t be surprised that then many look at the other people on the same footpath as a threat to their life. Or when leaving your home to go back to work is seen as risking ones life.

And now you see where “The spirits that I called, I can’t get rid of anymore.” becomes relevant! We over did it! We became so fearful that the care that people showed for each other in the beginning turned into people being prepared to report their neighbours for the smallest Covid-19 rule infringement.

It is a little early to think about things going back to “normality”, but what type of society do we want when we are going back to a sort of normality? If you have certain preferences, don’t let others pound fears and believes in you that are counterproductive!

Assess for yourself and judge what makes sense and what doesn’t. Then check with people that you trust if your assessment is reasonably and logical. Be prepared to learn and to speak up if necessary!

Oh and never ever forget that MOST others don’t do the (questionable) things they do to hurt or harm you, but because they don’t know better. Always be compassionate!

 
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