Life beyond lock-down: Masks for all?

Michael in a mask

Will we all be wearing masks in public for the next year or two?

A good friend sent me a link to a video which advocated the wearing of masks in public as a successful strategy for combating the transmission of corona virus.

I have no idea if this is true or not.

One thing of which I have been reminded by the current pandemic is that my intuition gained by experience as ‘an expert’ in one area, is not transferable. This pandemic has left me in a permanent state of bewilderment.

One of the key pieces of evidence offered in the video is the effectiveness of even primitive masks in inhibiting virus transmission in Czechia. Apparently,  mask-wearing in public has become de rigeur in Czechia, and there is – apparently – a low incidence of COVID-19 in Czechia.

I decided to look at the data

The table at the end of this article is compiled by data from Wikipedia’s list of the countries of Europe and their population, and the number of deaths recorded on Worldometer on the evening of 2nd April 2020.

The map below shows the results with the numbers expressing the numbers of deaths per million of the population.

[Note: Many European countries have small populations – less than the size of London – and many may not have good reporting of the deaths, which are in any case small in number. But the data is what it is.]

Number of deaths per million of population of countries in Europe on 2nd April 2020. See text for details. Data Table at the end of the article.

Number of deaths per million of population of countries in Europe on 2nd April 2020. See text for details. Data Table at the end of the article. Czechia is highlighted in yellow.

Does this data provide evidence that Czechia is a special case?

No.

To me it looks like Eastern Europe is generally less affected than Western Europe, and Czechia is in the middle. On the West it is bordered Germany and Austria, both of which have a low incidence (for Western Europe) per million of their population.

The 4 deaths per million of its population of its 10.7 million does not stand out as being anomalously low compared with, say, Poland (2 deaths per million of its population of 38 million) or Greece (5 deaths per million of its population of 10.4 million).

One further piece of evidence to look for would be the rate of growth of the virus within Czechia.

NYT Tracker for Czechia

The New York Times death tracker shows that the doubling-time for deaths in Czechia is similar to other countries in Western Europe – around 3 days.

The number of deaths are small and so the trend is uncertain, but it does not look like it is in the same group as Japan or South Korea which have only slow growth of virus-related deaths – a doubling time of more than 7 days.

In short, even though the idea of wearing a mask in public is not unreasonable, the data themselves do not seem to speak to the effectiveness of the habit.

But..

After the lock-down has ended, we all will need to be able to get out and about again and earn the money to pay for this hiatus. But the virus will still be out there and will still be exactly as lethal as it has been for these last few months.

So it might easily be that wearing a mask in public – proven in effectiveness or not –  may become a sign of respect for one’s fellow citizens.

One of the attractive features of the policy in Czechia is that the masks are not considered as being defensive i.e. protecting the wearer. Instead they are considered as a sign of pro-social behaviour i.e. a sign of one’s consideration of others.

Masks are unlikely to do any harm, and they may even do some good. But whichever is the case, it seems that in the US – the leader for many trends for both good and ill – their adoption may become mandatory.

NYT Tracker for Czechia

Headlines from papers on 2nd April 2020

So perhaps we will all be wearing masks in public for the for next year or two. I certainly didn’t see that coming!

UPDATE on 04/04/2020 ARTICLE ON ARS TECHNICA referencing new US CDC recommendations.

Data

Country Population Deaths @2/4/2020 Deaths/million
Germany 83,783,942 1,107 13
United Kingdom 67,886,011 2,921 43
France 65,273,511 5,387 83
Italy 60,461,826 13,915 230
Spain 46,754,778 10,348 221
Ukraine 43,733,762 22 1
Poland 37,846,611 57 2
Romania 19,237,691 115 6
Netherlands 17,134,872 1,339 78
Belgium 11,589,623 1,011 87
Czech Republic (Czechia) 10,708,981 44 4
Greece 10,423,054 53 5
Portugal 10,196,709 209 20
Sweden 10,099,265 308 30
Hungary 9,660,351 21 2
Belarus 9,449,323 4 0
Austria 9,006,398 158 18
Serbia 8,737,371 31 4
Switzerland 8,654,622 536 62
Bulgaria 6,948,445 10 1
Denmark 5,792,202 123 21
Finland 5,540,720 19 3
Slovakia 5,459,642 1 0
Norway 5,421,241 50 9
Ireland 4,937,786 98 20
Croatia 4,105,267 7 2
Moldova 4,033,963 6 1
Bosnia and Herzegovina 3,280,819 16 5
Albania 2,877,797 16 6
Lithuania 2,722,289 9 3
North Macedonia 2,083,374 11 5
Slovenia 2,078,938 17 8
Latvia 1,886,198 0 0
Estonia 1,326,535 11 8
Montenegro 628,066 2 3
Luxembourg 625,978 30 48

 

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