• Bodie English

Which Is More Effective, A KN95 Face Mask Or Sam Elliot’s Mustache?

On April 4th, the CDC announced a recommendation that people wear “cloth facial coverings” if they are to be in densities where 6ft. Distancing is not possible; this vague nomenclature of “cloth” of course could mean an Autozone grease rag that is nearly see through to the higher thread counts that you’ll find on any bed sheets neatly tucked under a dozen bed pillows of a family that watches way too much HGTV.

The term N95 facemask became a household name when we were initially told by Fauci and others such as the Attorney General Jerome Adams that we do not need them, and should stop trying to get them. This prompted speculation and set the stage for division in the country as some saw this as an attempt to procure the masks for the front line responders before the nations collectively hoarded them as they did with toilet paper. Others saw this as a straightforward denunciation of the masks being neither necessary nor adequate to prevent transmission of the virus. And as usual, Americans promptly went to their social media bastions, looked around at the most causticly vocal narratives on the extremes and picked their stances either for or against. Not surprisingly, it began to coalesce around the political divide.

While Fauci began to press for the mask, Adams maintains that it should only be worn by those with symptoms, ie: sneezing and coughing. Recent lifting of restrictions has now given people the opportunity to judge each person’s decisions respectively. The social dynamics of this reality affects people’s choices on what would normally be assumed to be science based. But what if scientists disagree? Ethos is derived from many attributes and thus, people will likely agree with whomever is saying what they most want to hear. Some, though, are either still confused, or as I’ve recently observed, completely unaware at all.

On a recent trip to Tractor Supply, (I needed a slingshot, some bird seed, and some cheap camouflage clothing), I watched as a large rural fella came through with what seemed to be a composure of a man returning from the open range to trade his wheat bushels for cloth, sugar and coffee. His overalls were well worn and his steel toe boots had seen plenty. He wandered down the aisles curiously glancing at the products with wonderment, He took a toothpick from his mouth and closely inspected a roll of flex tape, no doubt wondering what kind of hullabaloo he can muster up with this new wonder.

What broke his transfixion was when a woman walked by in a face mask and he clearly was mystified by this presence which confirmed my suspicion that he had wandered not only into Tractor Supply but also into the year 2020. He continued on to the safety aisle and was surprised to see no masks alongside the safety glasses and gloves.

I overheard him inquire with an employee, “Where’s all muh lawn mowin masks?” The clerk replied that they’d been out of stock since the pandemic started.

“The what what?” he replied.

The supply chain of masks is complicated, but to get a more detailed breakdown I contacted a local supplier of PPE (personal protective equipment) who gave me a quick rundown of the face mask supply issues.

Disruption of facemask supplies occurred at the end of February and the chain broke in mid March. There would not be a viable supply of disposable gowns and N95 masks for 6 months, assuming there would not be a significant uptick in Covid-19 infections. The CDC required dental offices and other elective procedure offices to shudder their doors from March to May 5th. The price, of course, also quadrupled in that time. Even though price gouging is illegal, it’s hard to track, and the government itself created scarcity in their attempt to reconnoiter all available PPE. To aid in the shortage, the US government approved the Kn-95 mask, which is a Chinese import product that had not been formally tested, in an effort to provide additional supplies. The FDA created Appendix A, which approved KN-95s, fast tracking every manufacturer of kn-95s to ramp up production. From there, six weeks into the crisis, the list of manufacturers went from 80 to 11 due to the fact that quality control tests showed there were significant problems in the efficacy of such masks. None of these masks that were sent to market were recalled however.

To further complicate public information regarding the 9-95 face mask , some are made with different intentions: Three levels of procedural earloop masks are designed to protect those around the wearer, which means less protection for the wearer… think of surgeons.

Level 3 procedural earloop masks are the same filtration as the N95, however, the n-95 creates a more seamless interface with a person’s face. However, for the vast majority of the public who are wearing masks, they are more prone to either be wearing homemade masks of questionable filtration, or store bought which are hardly any better. The CDC states that greater than 5-10 μm in diameter droplets exhaled through speaking are referred to as respiratory droplets which means that the majority of these droplets are not restricted by the masks that most people are wearing. In fact, the 6 foot distancing rule apparently presents a more effective way to reduce transmission than non N95 masks. Some might say that wearing masks may give people a false sense of security, prompting them to break the 6ft. rule. Still, scientists say that even though they may not know the extent of prophylactic efficacy of these cloth masks, they still suggest wearing them until more evidence arises; because while the extent of their efficacy may not be known, any barrier will provide less transmissible viral loads than no barrier at all. Further, new data suggests that viral load may play a significant role in determining if exposure leads to infection making masks of any quality a good option for reducing risks. So thaaaaats why doctors wear them!

So back to Tractor Supply and other hardware store supplies. These face mask products that were so ubiquitous prior to Covid-19 were there for the everyday sanding project, lawn mowing or spray painting endeavors, but were now going the way of the toilet paper rolls.

Finally, I interviewed a man named Robert who was obviously drunk at 4 Pm, on a weekday afternoon sitting on a curb outside the local Home Depot. Robert was upset at having been asked to leave the store after throwing a fit about the fact that, “They stopped having the hot dog carts outside the Home Depot now!” I agreed with Robert, those hot dogs were good and it made me angry as well, but it was clear that Robert was inebriated and was unable to contain his first world rage whereas I could simply quietly bite my lip and furrow my brow. I asked Robert why he was drunk so early on a weekday and he told me that he was skipping the face mask and was trying to maintain a blood alcohol level high enough to act as a prophylactic for Covid -19. He figured his breath was sufficiently sanitized by Tito's Vodka. He had gotten the idea by a news article he read where distilleries were pivoting their production to create hand sanitizer.

One thing’s for sure, People are steady acting like people; football, and the like, are being replaced with vitriolic binary claim-staking and to the ultimate detriment to Socractic thinking, everyone seems damn sure that everything they know is infallible truth #EVERYONEISDUMBBUTME. Even more viral, it seems, is an outbreak of rampant certitude which seems to most be transmissible through hot air.

Artwork provided by @fourthnail

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