Irony Alert: A Rejected Column for a Local Paper

I sent a rather sarcastic letter to the editor for my local rag. It was in the form of a question, which you’ll see below. The following week, they ran another TLE purporting to answer the question. In fact, the writer substituted her own strawman question, and ignored mine.

Our paper only allows one LTE per person every 45 days (unless, as I’ve seen over the years, the person supports the paper’s fairly leftwing agenda), and I wanted to address the issue in more detail than would fit into a 500 word LTE. I wrote a column and offered it to paper gratis.

The editor’s response?

I hope you understand. We have specific criteria for guest columnists, such as having a level of authority or educational expertise that gives that writer a unique perspective. I don’t know your professional background, but if you were a physician or held a PhD in a related discipline, I am assuming you would have made that known by now.

Nope, no PhD.Just several decades of scientific and technical training, applying observation, measurement and testing, mathematical analysis, and problem solving.

Therefore, apparently I am unqualified to cite PhDs, the FDA, and the CDC.

I decided to simply post the column here. Ironically, based on ssite traffic, I should get more readers than if it only appeared in the little T&G weekly.

COVID-19 Masking

Sandy Burch helpfully attempted to set me — and my hypothetical friend — straight on how masks stop the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Sadly, the question she chose to answer was her own, not mine. (LTE: Reader answers writer’s question about masks, September 16, 2021)

Ms. Burch wisely proclaimed that masks filter down to the 0.3 micron size. That is partially correct. N95-type masks are rated to block 95% of particles and aerosols down to that size. However, while her own friend explained that in terms of Brownian motion and mechanical filtering, that isn’t how N95 masks are so effective at that level. These masks employ an electrostatic effect which actively attracts and traps those small particles. The effect is compromised when the mask is dampened (from wearing it too long, for instance).

My question spoke of the masks most commonly seen on the few people who even bother with masks in this area: procedure/dust masks and cloth masks.

“Can anyone explain how a procedure/dust mask, that passes 4 micron smoke particles, blocks .125 micron aerosolized viruses?” (LTE: Reader seeks assistance on mask questions, September 9, 2021)

As I have personally tested, these masks will pass smoke. Smoke particles are typically 4 microns in size. So my question was how a mask that passes those comparatively large particles magically blocks smaller aerosols.

How much smaller? We have two clues. The first Ms. Burch already provided: N95 masks only block down to 0.3 microns, and are 95% effective. Clearly some are smaller yet.

The second clue is found in “The Mechanism of Breath Aerosol Formation (2009).” Actual measurements of human-exhaled aerosols gave a range of 0.5 to 0.9 microns. But even the smallest 0.5 micron aerosols detected were merely the smallest that the researchers’ equipment was capable of resolving.

Interestingly, the University of Waterloo researchers recently published a paper on how effective differing types of masks are in preventing the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, “Experimental investigation of indoor aerosol dispersion and accumulation in the context of COVID-19: Effects of masks and ventilation (2021).” They gave the following results, and recommended mask use:

R95: 60%
KN95: 46%
Cloth (3-ply): 10%
Surgical: 12%

But there is a slight problem with applying those numbers to COVID-19 as Professor Yarusevycha did. His study used aerosols with an average size of 1 micron. He found that surgical masks are only twelve percent effective at stopping aerosols LARGER than real exhalation aerosols measured by Johnson & Morawska in 2009.

Thus the question of why we should expect these masks to mysteriously work on aerosolized SARS-CoV-2. The CDC says they do. The federal government MANDATES the use of these masks in some settings, as do some states. But no one will explain HOW they somehow work.

The FDA on the other hand is dubious of surgical masks (N95 Respirators, Surgical Masks, Face Masks, and Barrier Face Coverings):N95 Respirators, Surgical Masks, Face Masks, and Barrier Face Coverings

“While a surgical mask may be effective in blocking splashes and large-particle droplets, a face mask, by design, it does not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes, or certain medical procedures.”

Anecdotally, there is evidence they do not. An individual with whom I am acquainted was diagnosed with COVID-19 last year. She recently ranted about that because she had done everything “they” told her to do: She socially distanced, she isolated in accordance with the lockdown, she wore gloves, washed her hands as often as possible, she used hand sanitizer, and she used disinfectant wipes on surfaces.

And she wore a mask, almost fanatically. None of it worked.

That’s only anecdotal. It could be coincidence. Let us ask the Centers for Disease Control what they found. The CDC helpfully published “Community and Close Contact Exposures Associated with COVID-19 Among Symptomatic Adults ≥18 Years in 11 Outpatient Health Care Facilities — United States, July 2020.”

“Reported use of cloth face covering or mask 14 days before illness onset”
Never: 3.9%
Rarely: 3.9%
Sometimes: 7.2%
Often: 14.4%
Always: 70.6%

If masks work, the CDC should have found reversed results from those. What they found is that people who never wore masks rarely got sick, and that those who DID wear masks accounted the vast majority of COVID-19 cases.

Personally, with two exceptions, I do not bother with a mask, unless I must enter private property where a mask is required. Those exceptions are the smoke test I mentioned earlier, and once when my religiously masking acquaintance visited; I wore it to humor her. And yet, while SARS-CoV-2 — COVID-19 — is known to have been in the wild in the United States for 21 months, I have not had COVID-19.

Based on FACTS from scientific research and provided by the very government that mandates masks, I think that masks are the least effective way of avoiding illness. Good nutrition, decent health (keep your weight down) and proper hygiene (wash your darned hands) will do more than even an N95 mask can do.

Added: I just saw a quite apropos meme.

Yes, I have. You?

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Smoke, Don’t Mask

That recommendation is facetious, but read on. Leslie Fish, long one of my favorite musicians, wrote a thoughtful blog post on COVID-19.

Concerning the ongoing pandemic hysteria:

Depending on which state you live in, you can be arrested if you show up in public without wearing a mask, or you’ll be ignored, or you may even be subjected to protests. Although close to half of all US citizens have now been vaccinated, the federal government claims that isn’t enough for “herd immunity” — especially considering the spread of the new Delta mutation of the Covid-19 virus — which is supposed to justify keeping everybody masked, no matter what. It’s understandable that a lot of people are annoyed and rebelling.

It’s well worth reading. One part, though, caught my attention.

So if you haven’t been vaccinated and haven’t caught the virus naturally, it’s best to catch as few of the viruses as possible — and this is where the masks come in. The virus lives in fluids, and your lungs, throat and mouth are perpetually wet; when you exhale, tiny drops of water vapor are floated out with your breath. If you don’t want to spread the virus, don’t breathe in other people’s faces — and if you don’t want to catch it, don’t let them breathe in yours. Masks, except for the heavy-duty hazmat kind, won’t catch all the water vapor in your breath, or anyone else’s, but they do cut down on most of it — and the more, the better.

Regular readers are aware of the difference between tiny droplets and aerosols, and my take on it. I wanted to leave a comment, but Leslie — like so many folks dealing with mass quantities of comment spam — only allows commenting with a Google login. (Regular readers probably also know my take on Google.)

What follows is the comment I wanted to leave.

Leslie, masks are actually remarkably ineffective at preventing aerosol dispersal; which should not be surprising, because that’s not what they’re designed for (to protect wearer, not other people). There have been many studies over the years that established this, but a recent one, with SARS-CoV-2 specifically in mind, found that different mask types had various degrees of effectiveness.

R95: 60%
KN95: 46%
Cloth (3-ply): 10%
Surgical: 12%

BUT… the kicker is that they tested with 1 micron aerosols. I called out the lead author on that. SARS-CoV-2 itself averages 0.125 microns, and other research showed exhalation aerosols in a range of 0.5 microns to 0.9 microns. It should be noted that 0.5 microns was merely the lower detection threshold for the apparatus they used. But especially note that the LARGER end of the range is still smaller than what cloth masks were only 10% effective on.

If you smoke, you can do your own mask test. Get a mouthful of smoke, put on a mask, and let it out. If you see smoke — 5 micron particles — the mask is useless for stopping viral aerosols.

Anecdote: My niece bought into all the COVID fear porn. She went nowhere without wearing a mask and gloves. She carried and liberally applied hand sanitizer. She was downright fanatical about “social distancing” (which, given the population density here, is kinda redundant). When she wasn’t using sanitizer, she was washing her hands. And she went through a lot of disinfection wipes sanitizing surfaces.

She got COVID-19. Remarkably, no one else in her household did.

Anecdote 2: I know a retired RN who happens to still have a great deal of medical supplies on hand, including boxes of medical grade N95 masks. Lately, she’s been going to some locations that require masks. Bear in mind that this nurse is known to rant about the poor emphasis which hospitals generally give infection control these days.

She doesn’t bother with N95s. She sticks with the cheaper procedure masks she also has, because that’s adequate to meet the hygiene-theater requirements.

Procedure/dust masks for viruses are like everyone using drinking straws as earplugs.

Since I mentioned smoking, I facetiously recommend smoking over masking. When several researchers started noticing that smokers seemed to be under-represented in ChinCOVID cases, I started tracking that in Georgia (DPH includes that in co-morbidity reporting).

Somewhere around 17-18% of Georgians smoke. All else being equal, you might expect that 17-18% of ChinCOVID cases would be smokers. As of 8/31/2021 the number is…


Roughly a third of what you might expect.

The effect appears to be nicotine binding ACE2 receptors before the SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins can.

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