Is the face mask the Church of Shutdown’s hijab?

Our town, which has a 2-acre zoning minimum, has imposed a rule requiring the “Use of Face Coverings”, starting today. People cannot be out of their yards without a mask:

Roads, sidewalks, bicycle paths, and trails: Walkers, joggers, cyclists, inline skaters, and skiers must wear face coverings when approaching or overtaking other persons. When no other person is nearby, the face covering may be worn under the chin in a position from which it can be quickly pulled up over the nose and mouth when needed. When approaching or overtaking another person, both parties must move off the path to the side to establish at least six feet of separation.

Most of the roads don’t have sidewalks, so this means people who are separated by the width of a two-lane road have to be masked. “Skiers” are mentioned, so it seems that the Church of Shutdown is preparing for a full year of worship.

Given that no effective masks are available for purchase in Massachusetts, the good news is that one can comply with this rule by wearing “scarf or bandana.” But aren’t those essentially useless against tiny particles of virus escaping into the air? If we can agree that bandanas and scarves are not adequate functional substitutes for surgical masks, is it fair to consider them religious symbols, i.e., the Church of Shutdown’s hijabs?

(Of course, it may also be impossible to buy a bandana:

Can the police arrest and/or fine people for failure to possess what cannot be purchased?)

Readers: What kind of evidence is there that a suburban street or sidewalk with a handful of walkers per hour, or a trail in the woods where people pass each other every 10 minutes (for example), will make any difference to whether a Covid-19 outbreak is sustained? (Separately, in what American suburb has a Covid-19 outbreak ever been sustained, despite up to two months of pre-shutdown spreading? For example, have we heard of a case of someone traveling from a St. Louis suburb to New York City for a Broadway show in February and then returning home to infect neighbors on the other sides of the white picket fences? The NYT map below doesn’t suggest that the fabled exponential growth has occurred anywhere in the U.S. other than a few cities.)


  • “The case for reopening America’s parks” (Vox): Another Chinese study looking at 318 outbreaks featuring three or more Covid-19 cases adding up to 1,245 total confirmed cases across more than 100 cities found just one instance of outdoor transmission.
  • Governor’s state-wide order on face masks: This applies to both indoor and outdoor spaces. … A face covering can include anything that covers your nose and mouth, including dust masks, scarves and bandanas. … make sure you wash the cloth mask regularly. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after touching the mask. [i.e., use the hand sanitizer that you can’t buy after touching the bandana that you can’t buy]

15 thoughts on “Is the face mask the Church of Shutdown’s hijab?

    • Absolute, total, complete control over everything and everyone, all the time. And you’ll have to beg to get it back; in most cases you never will. You’ll be grateful for even the most basic freedom.

      MIT Technology Review laid it all out in March:

      “This isn’t a temporary disruption. It’s the start of a completely different way of life…We’ll adapt to and accept such measures, much as we’ve adapted to increasingly stringent airport security screenings in the wake of terrorist attacks. **The intrusive surveillance will be considered a small price to pay for the basic freedom to be with other people.**”

      Accept intrusive surveillance and all the other measures in exchange for your basic freedom, Comrades! Non-negotiable. That’s where we are going, at warp speed.

    • > Readers: What kind of evidence is there…

      It’s not evidence! It’s “common sense”. Get with it, Philg! From the article:

      “Baker had previously said the decision on whether to require face coverings should be left up to individual municipalities, several of which put it into practice. But on Friday, he told reporters he sees it as “common sense.”

      Wearing masks when being in populated public places is going to be a key measure in stemming the spread of the virus and reopening the state, Baker said.”

      Note the future tense in the last paragraph. They don’t *have* the evidence. They’re going to *make* the evidence. It’s common sense.

  1. The crisis has revealed massive govenmental ineptitude on all levels so the authorities try to distract the populace with irrelevant distractions like the mask issue you raise. So here in NYC the Mayor has tried to distract the populace from his inability to get a handle on the vagrancy problem — a subway system that has become a hotel for the deranged, the unwashed and unclean (which no doubt fosters the disease) by setting up a commision headed by his incompetent and corrupt wife to investigate the role of “racism” in the transmission of the disease. And the schools Chancellor rather than focusing on how to deliver education on line, has instead focused on racism in the school system, a remarkable feat given that the school system he administers is 84% minority. And then there is the CIty Council that decreed as of 1 March no store may offer a plastic bag to a customer — so as in their opinion to combat global warming. But we the citizens are the fools for electing these people.

    • Paul: I would say that New Zealand eliminated coronavirus via a Trump-style Border Wall (in the form of the Southern Ocean). They closed their border, which was in any case already closed to the low-skill migrants that are the primary source of U.S. population growth, and then it was pretty easy. Any number of U.S. states would be able to do this if they had the legal and practical ability to close their borders. As noted elsewhere on this blog, coronavirus has never managed a sustained outbreak in the U.S. other than in a handful of cities.

      Hawaii could trivially eliminate coronavirus, but what would be the point? Within a few weeks, an infected New Yorker or Bostonian would show up, break their weakly enforced quarantine, and start the epidemic again. suggests that our academic epidemiologists knew this on January 31:

      At this point, sharply curtailing air travel to and from China is more of an emotional or political reaction, said Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

      “The cow’s already out of the barn,” he said, ”and we’re now talking about shutting the barn door.”

    • Good points, Phil. Interesting paper from University of Minnesota on possible upcoming scenarios ( As soon as travel starts back up (or mass gatherings allowed), hopefully the states will either be in Scenario 1 or 3, or else the Church of the Shutdown will come back in vogue. Btw, even Thom Friedman (from your favorite paper, the NYT) has discovered Sweden now :-).

    • Paul: Thanks for the pointer to

      Such a rich source of material from Thomas Friedman…

      [opening paragraph: this is mostly Trump’s fault]

      President Trump has often described this pandemic as our “war” with an “invisible enemy” — the coronavirus. That war metaphor is wrong and misleading.

      [fails to point out that evolution is just a theory]

      Mother Nature does not reward the strongest or the smartest. She rewards the species that are the most adaptive in evolving the chemistry, biology and physics that she has endowed them with to thrive — no matter what she throws at them.

      [mischaracterizes Sweden’s strategy as depending on “herd immunity” (discredited by the Church of Shutdown”; the Swedes don’t lockdown because they think a feeble Western lockdown doesn’t change anything, not because they believe they will get to “herd immunity” on a significantly different date than anyone else]

      In case you’ve missed it, Sweden has taken a radically different approach in dealing with the coronavirus. It has essentially opted for a strategy of “herd immunity” through exposure.

      [classic begging the question: I know that shutdown works to save lives because look how many lives shutdown has saved in NYC. Even in writing about the Swedes he fails to understand them. The Swedish priests would say that NYC’s shutdown didn’t change the infection curve by more than a day or two.]

      Think of the challenge of New York City. Its hospitals would have been overwhelmed by the sudden crush of patients, so the months of lockdown of millions will surely, and vitally, have saved lives.

      [Sweden’s death rate is “high”; the Massachusetts death rate that is 2X higher is not worth mentioning.]

      It has come with a high cost, though. As USA Today noted: “Sweden has a population of 10 million people, about twice as large as its nearest Scandinavian neighbors. As of April 28, the country’s Covid-19 death toll reached 2,274, about five times higher than in Denmark and 11 times higher than in Norway.”

    • Friedman was smart enough to marry the daughter of a billionaire. Was he smart enough to pay attention to the former chief scientist of the European CDC and the rest of the Swedes earlier?

      And Trump seems to have finally become properly awed by the power of Mother Nature’s Covid-19, ordering federal distancing guidelines to stay in place until April 30. That is a good thing. But as we win this battle with the coronavirus and begin to think about the next round of stimulus that we want to inject into the economy — and there will be a next round — it is vital that we keep in mind just how much more destructive climate change could be for all of us, and make sure that we invest in long-term resilience against that as well.

      —– i.e., it is Trump’s fault, lockdown is the best strategy, and I am worried about climate change as I crank up the head in my 11,000+ square foot house.

      April 18:

      It is “Russian Roulette” to lift the shutdown without having an Asian-style testing/tracking system in place (i.e., the Swedes are doing it all wrong because they don’t bother with testing/tracking!)

    • As with most NYT articles, the most interesting part is reader comments. The #1 pick says “The point is that Sweden planned their approach against a backdrop of a much stronger safety net than we have.” The top NYT pick says “at least Sweden has universal healthcare”. The readers have faith in the health care system for treating a disease for which no medical treatment is available!

      Another great reader pick: “The informed, educated Swedes trust themselves, each other, their transparent institutions & government.” (if this is the key to surviving a pandemic, why would the U.S. want to continue admitting immigrants who are not educated, who cannot read or speak English, and in a mixture of cultures such as mutual trust is unlikely?)

      “Health care is universal for all citizens in Sweden. … And the main focus is on TESTING.” (In fact, Sweden seems to be testing primarily the hospitalized.)

      “Sweden has a strong public health infrastructure, with universal coverage. Its Gini index is 2/3 that of the US.” (If we had more equality, the virus would hardly bother us. If true, why admit low-skill immigrants who are guaranteed to make the U.S. less equal?)

      “Thomas, you cannot compare oranges and apples. On the one hand you have a well-educated public and an honest administration trusting the population to do the right thing.” (If a well-educated public is the key, why admit immigrants who can’t speak English and who do not have a college degree?)

      “Sweden basically decided to kill its vulnerable population. In my country – Australia – that is unacceptable. Yes, we’ve taken an economic hit, but we can fix that. We can’t resurrect the dead.” (Argentina was sure that they could fix the economic hits that they took in the early 20th century. Venezuela was sure that they could fix the economic hits that they took in the early 21st century. Let’s hope that this Australian is right! (and also that the virus doesn’t simply start infecting Australians as soon as they emerge from their bunkers))

      “And yet it’s the poor people who have to get on the bus or the subway and go to work – those are the people we are putting most at risk in this country.” (A good argument for abandoning NYC! A working-class “poor” person in most of the U.S. will drive a private car to work.)

      “‘Herd Immunity’ is nothing more than code for ‘Let them die'” (but won’t people in the U.S. keep dying until herd immunity is reached?)

      “Being over 70 and having an underlying cardiovascular condition, I have a sinfully self-interested question: just how long are the vulnerable supposed to remain in shelter and sequestration? Until we pass from natural causes, loneliness or simple boredom, thus ceasing to be an inconvenient burden on the finite resources of the state?” (I wonder about this myself. Without herd immunity among the young/healthy, how can the old/vulnerable ever re-emerge into society?).

      From a Californian: “It might work for Sweden, but it would not work here. This virus would burn thru the South like Sherman to the sea.” But why hasn’t it? The Florida-through-Texas belt has had minimal problems with coronavirus despite state government strategy that earned derision from righteous folks in Massachusetts.

    • Phil,
      At least 2 sources failed to read your entry on Sweden’s death counting process:

      Bloomberg (
      “Sweden’s 2,586 deaths compare poorly with Denmark’s 452, and Norway’s 207. Taking population into account, Sweden has suffered more deaths per million people than the U.S. (although deaths aren’t always counted in the same way).”

      I can’t find a similar McPaper (USA Today) article I read that essentially said the same thing.

      Also, been pondering the same thing about the Florida through Texas belt and the lack of a Sherman like March of coronaplague –

      Other than New Orleans, it looks like there is less damage than along the New England east coast. Maybe they are having problems with counting as well ..

  2. Here in Paris I systematically wear a mask when I go outside because it’s easier, in the sense that I have to think less, once the mask is on.

    I often just wear a t-shirt on my head like a ninja mask (there are Youtube tutorials). It’s Halloween every day! And the Security Theater is playing at all hours.
    It’s fairly comfortable and breathable even for jogging. I know that, depending on how many layers or type of material, it may not be perfect, but hey, better than nothing, no? (cough cough)

    However, the French government is still resisting mask fundamentalism. Mayors in towns as big as Lyon have tried to require wearing masks outside, but the government says any such edict will be canceled by the Prefect.

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