Crushing COVID-19: Masks, Messaging and Creating the Moment

Masks, do they protect me directly if I wear? Why should I wear them if it protects others and not me? Here I present a line of reasoning for masks being protective to the person who wears it and relate it to a rapid acting equivalent of vehicle seat belts. I hope the message in this blog aids change in mindset and practice, and together with other developments in place now help us create ‘The Moment’ to hold current state of the COVID-19 pandemic as its worst and help move to build a better future faster.

Crushing COVID-19 pandemic.

Vehicular seat belts saved about 300,000 lives in the United States alone over 43 years, compared to that many lives lost due to COVID-19 infection in less than one year. In this year 2020, as of Christmas day we have lost 1.75 million lives across the world to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have been through a lousy year and not done with the COVID-19 pandemic that took away so many lives, so much more from lives of people and the society. From early on masks have been a point of contention. It has been advocated as one of the topmost measures to protect a person from spreading the dreadful infectious disease with so much network effect. Here I give reasons to indicate that we missed an important fact that use of simple (non-medical grade) masks protect the wearer as well as others and not one way as it is commonly being thought now by many. It could have been the rapid acting equivalent of the vehicle seat belt and could have saved a lot of lives in a very short time. [**I provide a brief outline of reasoning as to how one can conclude above at the end of this article.]

In principle, early and rigorous study and recognition of masks being protective to the wearer (and messaging appropriately) would have allowed proper messaging a temporary legislation with strong, socially acceptable reasons that could have reduced the number of deaths other societal suffering by reducing the number of people who ignore pleas to wear masks or protest being forced to wear masks (and still do) citing individual liberty, as was protested when seat belt legislation was introduced.

Masks protect the wearer as well as others and not one way as it is commonly being thought now and is akin to a rapid acting equivalent of vehicle seat belts. Recognizing this will likely keep the current stage of this COVID-19 pandemic as its worst, and today “THE MOMENT” when we all aid rapid reversal of the pandemic and get us to rebuilding an awesome and superior society sooner.

While we missed the opportunity early on to focus studies and use the messaging and accompanying advantages, doing so now will likely keep the current stage of this COVID-19 pandemic as its worst, help us limit the continuing losses and rebuild an awesome and superior society that gives more flexibility and increased productivity.

In the simplest expression of reasoning: Chances of microparticulate droplets of mucus and respiratory fluid with viral particles from an infected person encountering an obstacle to reach another individual (could be you) is far higher with the mask barrier. This offers significant potential to reduce transmission of infection from the typically low density and low transport velocity virus-laden microparticles at the solid interfaces from the fibers of your mask acting as obstacles.

Like masks acting as a rapid acting equivalent of seat belts in vehicle use safety, “social distancing” can be considered minimally the equivalent of vehicle airbags in our social construct.

Mask is just one of the top easy to observe recommendations to prevent the spread of the pandemic; the other easy one is “social distancing”. Like comparing masks to seat belts in vehicle use safety, “social distancing” in the same analogy can be considered minimally the equivalent of vehicle airbags in our social construct. To remind you of the effectiveness – using a seat belt without air bag has an effectiveness of 48 percent. Using a seat belt and having an air bag creates an effectiveness of 54 percent. When considering a large population every point increase in percentage of protection is very significant. Uniform and broadly applicable numbers for social distance or acceptable clique (cluster) sizes to curtail virus transmission are difficult to define (due to high context dependent variability of several key determinants) except to recommend as much distancing and decreased density of people to limit further spread and societal deterioration. [**outline of reasoning supporting the theme of this blog is provided in   at the end of this article].

Since this post is about masks, we should recognize that social distancing increases the effectiveness of mask use. The main reasons for that include reduced opportunity of exposure and reduced particle density in your surroundings even in presence of an infected individual.

We skip discussing the biomedical and technological diagnostics in this article though enormous progress has been made to tailor and scale their use.

Naturally many aspects of COVID-19 spread followed the summarized information (simplified pictorial slides 2- 6) in presentation Metasystem to Study Emergence of Infectious Diseases  (hyperlinked to content posted at Slideshare website). That content is based on my last two presentations in 2010 of my work from previous career. The information referenced here was the background context for my proposal on an approach to develop a framework to study emergence and progression of new infectious diseases, and help tailor appropriate strategies at times like this. Two of those simplified pictures are reproduced below.

The use of masks, together with social distancing that increases the safety of masks as well and other simple preventive measures to protect ourselves, others will prevent further deterioration of our lives and help us get to the rebuild phase sooner. Naturally Crushing COVID-19 especially after what it has progressed to, needs all parts of the multifaceted approach being suggested for a while now and newer ones developed have started to yield results. A recent and prominent one is the large scale production and use of vaccines – which is going to minimally take several months to implement and start having effect. I WILL FOLLOW-UP ABOUT VACCINES IN AN UPCOMING POST, NATURALLY WITH NEW ASPECTS TO PONDER, WHICH IS A GOAL OF THIS HiBrow Perspectives FORUM.

I take this time to remind you that the socially relevant aspects discussed in these blogs serve their purpose better with your participation. Please engage here, write to me, think about them, adopt them, give more evidence or propose other solutions to the society.

** Below is an outline of basis of mask protecting the wearer.

Prelude: Reading the outline below one would realize that there are too many variables not well understood etc. Remember the example I used in another post: aircraft a major innovation is based on assumptions like air is an incompressible fluid. We can do wonderful things of large impact with partial knowledge with thought, ingenuity, innovation and community participation. Some of the past posts highlight one or other problems that also affect the society, but in the same blog we also recognized the progress made despite those limitations.

A primary route of social transmission from an infected individual is through virus encapsulated fluid microparticle with mucus or other nasal/oral fluids. Typically, if we practice reasonable social distancing and sparse environment recommendations the density of the microparticles are low and can be considered to be in low velocity motion when it reaches another person. If the other person is wearing simple two layer clothing mask as recommended – ideally with bonded fabric as a filter between the two layers. The fibers of the mask provide many distributed solid obstructions as well as regions of escape between the solid obstructions. In these conditions when the microparticle reaches the other person the drag and friction at the solid liquid interface increase which might be sufficient to cause an increase in laminar flow boundary layer thickness further reducing the velocity near the solid boundary (solid – fluid interface) and retard the motion of the virus laden microparticle. One can also predict that time increased at the solid interface gives higher chance of adsorption to the mask materials, significantly decreasing the chance of virus reaching the target (in this case the mask wearer’s nose or mouth). Careful evaluation of theories on motion of particle in the size range of interest also support the notion of increasing reach time of the droplets in the presence of distributed obstacles in the path.  

Here the properties affecting network and graph theoretical framework used to study, model and design frameworks in social networks, epidemiology, artificial intelligence etc. are in play. Many highly variable determinants affect flow of infection through the network. These include of super spreader nodes and cliques of virus infected individuals, the droplet size, viral density in droplets, environmental and social factors etc. In addition, the state of the recipient including increased susceptibility due to age, preexisting conditions etc. also play major roles. The only generalizable aspect with current knowledge of major significance for spread of infection (which also directly affects the utility of simple mask for the purposes of this blog) is to recommend as much distance between individuals and as sparse a density of people as possible with suggested limits.


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