On Wednesday, Minnesota joined nearly 30 other states in putting a mask mandate in place. It would have been far preferable for Gov. Tim Walz to be among the first to announce such an important public health measure. But if there’s an upside from the delay, it’s this:
The new requirement to wear masks in indoor public spaces, as well as some outdoor venues, shouldn’t be controversial at this point given COVID-19’s continued spread and the bipartisan array of governors who already have enacted mandates. This hopefully will translate to Minnesotans accepting and wearing this protective gear instead of recklessly going without as a political statement.
The gathering force of this pandemic makes it clear that all steps are needed to contain this virus. COVID isn’t just a problem on the East Coast, where it hit early and hard. This week, respected data tracker Charles Gaba reported that cases per capita in Louisiana and Arizona are on track to swiftly surpass New York, the state that so far has been the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.
States such as Alabama, Arkansas and Texas have smartly responded with statewide orders outlining mask use in public to reduce COVID’s spread. Leading public health organizations also back mandates. In addition, retailers such as Target, Best Buy, Apple and Walmart now require masks.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump apparently joined the mask bandwagon as well, pulling one out of his suit pocket during his late afternoon COVID news briefing. While he didn’t don it, he did encourage Americans to wear them.
It would have been preferable for him to do that sooner. Nevertheless, it’s still a step forward and a sign that it’s time for holdouts to get on board.
Other than very young children and rare individuals who can’t wear a mask for medical reasons, everyone should be wearing one. Yes, there has been conflicting advice on the benefits, with some early guidance also reflecting a national shortage of masks for medical providers and the need to conserve them.
But as the pandemic has continued, there’s been greater clarity on risk factors for contagion. The “Three C’s” is an easy way to remember them: closed spaces, crowded places and close contact.
The role played by droplets emitted when speaking, singing, coughing or sneezing is also better understood now. Masks aren’t a panacea, but act as a barrier to prevent people from inadvertently “sharing” droplets with others. That’s especially valuable when combined with social distancing and other common-sense protective measures in high-risk settings.
“We really need uptake. These types of ‘good but not perfect’ interventions work best when everyone does it — think seat belts, air bags or condoms,” said Dr. Dimitri Drekonja, a University of Minnesota infectious-disease specialist. “If they all get used nearly universally, the effect is huge.”
Modeling confirms that masks can save lives. In late June, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) updated its COVID forecast, predicting 179,106 deaths by Oct. 1. “Those numbers drop to 146,047 … if at least 95 percent of people wear masks in public,” the institute said in a statement.
IHME also offered more specific analysis on Minnesota, predicting that 95% mask use in public would save 96 lives in the state by Oct. 1.
There’s no good reason to forgo masks. Put one on and do your part, Minnesota.