Why England’s ditching the face mask

England’s preparing to declare a half-assed victory over Covid (“We have to live with it”) and celebrate with a nationwide germfest. Starting on July 19–or yesterday, if you want to be the first kid on the block–masks will be voluntary. Social distancing will be a memory. Getting drunk and hugging strangers will be an Olympic sport.

No, sorry. England doesn’t get to decide on Olympic sports. I got carried away.

If you want to gather a few thousand of your closest friends in a closet for snacks and drinkies, you’re free to. Sporting events will be back. If you’ve been working from home, you can go back to the office. 

Cases, our alleged prime minister Boris Johnson predicted, will rise to 50,000 a day and “we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from Covid.” But as long as we slip the word sadly in there, who gives a damn? I mean, these are people who’d die sooner or later, wouldn’t they? Of something.

Irrelevant photo: The Cornish coast

What they’re counting on is that vaccination has–in the phrase that’s being used so often that it’s started sticking to the walls–weakened the link between infection and hospitalization. Or sometimes the phrase is broken the link.

Broken it ain’t, and although the link’s weaker, the number of Covid hospitalizations has risen.

The main regulation that’s left is that you have to self-isolate if you’ve been exposed to the virus. Unless you’re fully vaccinated, in which case you get to collect £200 pounds in Monopoly money and start the game again.

A lot of this is about the economy, although how face masks damage the economy is beyond me and in the long run I expect all this will do more damage than good. The rhetoric on it is particularly brainless. You’re welcome to keep wearing masks, but it’s now a personal choice. Johnson said that we need to “move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus.”

The next logical step is to let people make their own informed decisions on drunk driving. They’re in charge of a heavy chunk of machinery that can kill or maim someone. Other people’s lives are in their inebriated hands. But hey, it’s not for the government to tell them what to do.

Long live the extreme edge of libertarian logic.

 

Do masks actually make a difference?

Well, a study compared counties in Kansas that had face mask mandates with those that didn’t. Mask mandates reduced Covid cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities by 60%.

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And since we’re talking about masks, a new Covid test has been developed that takes the form of a facemask. You wear it for 90 minutes and it either detects Covid or doesn’t, with the same accuracy as the PCR test–those slow, lab-based tests that are the gold standard for Covid testing. 

The team that invented it is looking for a manufacturing partner to mass produce it.

I see articles about new, fast, accurate Covid tests fairly regularly, and for a while I was mentioning them here. But after that, I’d hear nothing more about them and I kind of gave up on the topic. This one, however, has the potential to be tweaked so it detects all sorts of pathogens and toxins. I thought it might be worth a mention.

 

What about wind instruments and Covid?

It turns out that blowing through wind instrument generates fewer aerosols than either singing or talking. In fact, it’s no more than a person generates by breathing.

The amount of aerosols that singers and speakers generate rises with their volume. That holds true for both amateur and professional singers, regardless of their vocal training, their lack of vocal training, and how good or bad they sound. You run as much risk listening to a terrible singer as a good one, and get less back for it.

 

And what did you do with your time in lockdown?

A civil engineer set a new Guinness world record for the tallest stack of M&Ms. It took him hours, but it was raining, he was in lockdown, and he eventually managed to balance five on top of each other.

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On the other hand, a six-year-old, Apollo Premadasa, wrote a string quartet, “Pandemia,”  and at the height of the pandemic emailed a London hospital to tell them about it. 

“I wrote this piece to say thank you to all the doctors, nurses and scientists around in the UK and around the world for all their hard work during the pandemic,” he said. “It’s been a really hard time for them and they have all been heroes.”

He plays the trombone, cello, and timpani, and he composes music. And in case you’ve forgotten, he’s six years old. 

To celebrate the National Health Service’s 73rd birthday, it was performed at the hospital

55 thoughts on “Why England’s ditching the face mask

  1. Excellent article. I really really don’t understand what’s so difficult about wearing a mask outdoors (not necessary in Italy now, but I’d say 4 out of 5 people, at least in my area, still do…). Beats me… I liked the news about “Pandemia”, and listened to it: brilliant, looking forward to Apollo’s future compositions!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m visiting my mom in Ohio right now and it’s masks off around here. The vaccination rate is too low for me, and it’s very very much Trump country. So, no, I mask up in every building I enter. Why would I trust The Unvaccinated to be the ones to wear masks?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It was allegedly informed choices that got us this alleged government in the first place. So, really, it’s all our fault, as Johnson will lose no time in telling us – though he may take a hundred words to do it rather than just four.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We could easily incorporate them into our normal lives instead, either by mandate or by encouraging people to draw together as a society, so that it becomes like staying under the speed limit–something most of us expect to do, even when it annoys us.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for the link to the reassuring research into playing wind instruments. One of the groups I play in is a couple of weeks away from its first meeting since last February, so it’s nice to know that we’ll be as safe as we would be if we were just talking to one another. I’ll still want to be 6 feet away from them, though. I also won’t be leaving my face mask at home after 19th July and I hope significant numbers of people continue to wear them. It’s not as if it’s an inconvenience if you’re a fairly healthy person.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I wish they’d discover the same thing about singing, but that’s just wishful thinking: They’ve pretty clearly established that the louder you are, the more hazardous you are. But I’m glad the article’s of use.

      And I’m with you on face masks. It would be a cultural shift us, but in Japan people have worn them for years. The benefits would far outweigh the inconvenience.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. >It turns out that blowing through wind instrument generates
    >fewer aerosols than either singing or talking.

    So what you’re saying is that all schoolchildren should have Charlie Brown’s teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That little musical kid makes me feel like I have accomplished diddly-squat during the pandemic. Wow. Talent coupled with dedication and inspiration is incredibly impressive. I bet his linen closet isn’t as organized as mine is now though so take that, 6 year old.

    Our mask mandate here in PA ended just over a week ago. I am definitely seeing far more maskless people now, which I suppose at least means most people were previously following the rules even though they were clearly desperate to be mask-free. My entire household is now fully vaccinated so I am definitely less rigorous about mask-wearing than I was before but I still err on the side of caution. I still wear one to the grocery store but I had an indoor meeting with my manager without wearing one. I am awaiting a decision on what our mask policy is going to be at the preschool where I teach. As much as I hated trying to teach small kids through a mask and keeping their masks on was an absolutely ceaseless chore, I don’t know how comfortable I am – vaccinated though I may be – teaching a bunch of little kids who are not eligible to be vaccinated.

    Furthermore, I think there will now always be contexts in which I don a face mask. Flights, for sure, but maybe also high density mass transit. The silver lining of the pandemic has been that not a single member of my family has had a cold or sickness bug. If masks help me reduce the likelihood of ill health in future then I will wear one.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I haven’t had–or been around anyone who had–a cold in a year and a half now. Or flu. I can’t help wondering where those bugs have been hiding out that makes them able to reappear.

      I do wonder if those of us who feel strongly about wearing masks will eventually give up if the weight tips toward not wearing them.

      Sorry–I’m not at my cheeriest just now. Maybe I should go listen to that string quartet again. Or organize the linen closet.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. This seems to be a post affirming everything you and the commenters said in the last post. (One consolation is that of being right about something, even if it is a grim affirmation.)
    Allergy sufferers are also noting their allergies have been less bothersome with masks on.
    Both of the vets I patronize are now letting us in with our animals, one requiring masks and the other not if you are vaccinated (as they all are),
    With the new variant, I noticed more people wearing masks last week when I shopped than had been wearing them the week before, so apparently common sense is not totally dead. Too bad Kalison0515 and I can’t meet for coffee (on the patio at Dunkin Donuts so we can be unmasked while drinking coffee) so she can see not all of us Buckeyes are magats.
    That whole chunk of the Cornish coast is for sale ? My lord, that looks a bit like it ought to be a national park or whatever the UK has.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know about that bit of the coast being for sale. I’m not sure coast can be privately owned here. I don’t know of any bits that are, although that may be my ignorance speaking. Still, I’m not convinced. I did a quick check with Lord Google and learned nothing of use. But if you and Kalinson get together on the patio of Dunkin Donuts, I’m going to imaginarily join you if you’ll have me. It sounds wonderful.

      I’m glad masks haven’t been completely abandoned in the US. It gives me hope that just maybe people–some people, at least–will keep wearing them here.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow! Six years old! That is so mature!

    Damned if I’m going to stop wearing a mask. Or distancing. In fact, I might just stay home home now all the idiots have been given even more license to be idiots.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The piece of music was lovely. I haven’t read music since I was in school, so an extremely long time ago, and I really enjoyed the reading along of the video.

    As for the rest of it, I’m overwhelmed with emotions. Anger being at the top of the list, followed rapidly by sadness. I don’t have to explain the former, but the sadness is at the need to balance my partner’s fear with my desire to see my family. His fear being understandable when the grandchildren are germ bugs at the best of times, the eldest almost certainly having brought COVID into their home late last year; and my mother who invited the handyman in for coffee & cookies (both unmasked & indoors) many times a week throughout the pandemic, even at its highest when she was supposed to be in isolation. My daughter understands, my grandchildren don’t have the capacity, and my mother just goes her merry way making me feel as guilty as possible.

    I may steal your idea and keep that music on loop. I cannot speak further of BoJo & Co, particularly when they’ve managed to make us look back on Matt Hancock almost wistfully (shudder)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow, you’ve got almost every possible approach to getting through the epidemic all packed into one family. Sadness–yes. I share it.

      I’m impressed that you could read along with the music. I didn’t try. In fact, it didn’t occur to me to try. If I read words the way I read music, I’d be able to pick out the consonants but not the vowels. Or maybe the other way around. It’s more useful than not reading it at all, but not much.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I shall carry on wearing a mask in shops and on public transport for as long as the infection rate continues to rise. I’ll also steer clear of crowded areas. Common sense is the key here, but it appears that many people do not have any, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The government will relax the rules prematurely and then blame the public for not acting sensibly, despite assuring everyone we can go back to normal. I’m struggling to think of a more useless bunch of self-serving parasites.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I followed you right up to the citing of the Kansas study, which I found to be dubious at best. This is not an opinion about the efficacy of masks, rather a comment on efficacy of studies.

    There are simply too many factors to control for and looking at deaths and hospitalization by geography is looking for the wrong thing. Are we controlling for age, for nursing home cases, for population and housing density and employment circumstances that pack workers in poorly ventilated environments?

    The only really important thing is the number of infections and how those infections came to be.

    It brings to mind the various studies comparing public policies and homicide rates. From my years of tabulating law enforcement data, it is pretty clear that the difference between a homicide and an aggravated assault is about an inch.

    Not to mention how effective the first responders and ER facilities are.

    In essence, what are we really studying here?

    I always wondered why those studies didn’t compare the number gunshot victims versus the number gunshot victims who died. Or for that matter, the number of incidents of people shooting at people and not hitting them We actually know that if they fire a gun outside via the Shot Fired (acoustical) System.

    None the less, I tend to view such things as studies whose purpose it is to buttress a policy.

    The Mayo did an interesting study on masks and found that they are almost useless to protect oneself – yet quite effective at containing the exhalation of large droplets – so there is that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve seen studies that say masks give some (emphasis on some) protection to the wearer, but let’s not split hairs: They’re primarily a protection for others. Which makes this individual choice thing absolutely stupid. I get to choose whether to infect you? Um, that’s not my idea of a workable public health policy.

      You make good points about the study I quoted, and about studies in general. My sense is that it’s a correlation, not cause and effect, but still a useful set of numbers as long as we don’t try to rest too much weight on it. It would probably be more useful (although still only a correlation) if similar comparisons were available from other places. Still, I take your point.

      Like

  13. Listening to the music as I write this. Lovely!

    I LOATHE wearing a mask. I did wear one indoors when it was mandated – am not an idiot and I understand my social responsibilities – but it came off the minute I walked outside because, unless you’re silly enough to be in a crowd (which I am not), the risk if transmission is somewhere between zero and infinitesimal. And now that I’ve been vaccinated I don’t wear them indoors either.

    I detest them because they make me sweat, and I can’t understand people when they talk through a mask (apparently I’m losing my hearing worse than I thought I was), and as someone with mild face blindness I find them terribly disorienting, and as someone who finds it difficult to pick up on social cues I find them isolating. So I work hard at finding alternative ways to protect myself and others.

    Here’s my approach … I maintain distance. If I’m in a public space and have to walk past someone, I turn my head, hold my breath, and walk quickly. I avoid crowds. If I have any kind of respiratory tract infection in the future, I’ll wear a mask when I’m around other people.

    But, dammit, not when taking a walk outside!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Outside, I agree. Outdoor crowds–I’m not sure. Football fans outdoors, probably drunk, and celebrating? They jump all over each other and exchange germs. Not a great idea.

      I’m also face blind and I actually like the excuse masks give me to say, “Um, who’s under there?”

      Like

      • Drunk or sober, I don’t do crowds!

        Honestly, I don’t know what the right answer is. Surely there must come a point where da gubmint steps back and let’s people make choices. Those of us who believe it’s necessary to take precautions do so, and let the others remove themselves from the gene pool. Of course that’s a huge over-simplification … Their stupid choices affect others, especially health workers. Maybe people who choose not to be vaccinated should be penalized when they need healthcare. Some may consider just letting them die a little draconian … But frankly it works for me!

        Liked by 2 people

        • The thing about masks is that not wearing one does affect other people–and people can’t necessarily remove themselves from public places. They have to work. They have to buy groceries, or see doctors, or do whatever it takes to keep a life running. Making choices that don’t affect other people, sure, I have no problem with that. But with this, we’re all in it together, whether we like it or not. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do feel like I have a grasp of the problem.

          Liked by 1 person

    • There’s more than one way to interpret ol’ Darwin. Some focus on the individual, others on the species. I’ve read arguments that say humans’ survival as a species was based on our social interactions–basically, our collective strength. If that’s true–and it strikes me as an argument that has, at least, a good bit of truth in it–then this is a time when the way we survive will depend on our ability or inability to pull together. I think we’ll come out of this in far better shape if we accept that our fate lies not in our individual hands but in our collective ones.

      Sorry–I went and go all serious on you. I do that sometimes. In my defense, it’s still early morning and the caffeine hasn’t kicked in yet.

      Liked by 1 person

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