Why rich white Americans believe in masks

It isn’t obvious why rich white Americans should have become Mask Karens. All through the first half of 2020, the World Health Organization told humans that masks for the general public wouldn’t save them from a respiratory virus (archive.org). Looking at infection and hospitalization rates versus mask law dates does not suggest a strong and reliable effect. Some charts:

A friend who is a professor of cognitive science:

It’s the usual causality problem with epidemiology. Upper middle class Northeasterners (like me) are adamant about mask wearing, and they rarely get sick. So it must be working.

In other words, “Coastal Elite” (at home on Zoom) and “Essential Critical Infrastructure Worker” (exposed to dozens or hundreds of strangers each day) seldom overlap. (See also infection/death rates versus race.)

Professor Karen didn’t think that a mistaken belief regarding the efficacy of masks was bad because it would help Biden/Harris defeat Donald Trump. It turns out that a guy whose salary has depended on government funding for four decades is a passionate supporter of the political party that promises to expand government…

A few mask papers:

  • Ahmad, et al (2001). “The Effect of Wearing the Veil by Saudi Ladies on the Occurrence of Respiratory Diseases.” Journal of Asthma, 38(5), 423–426. doi:10.1081/jas-100001497: The most interesting finding in this paper is that wearing the veil is more associated with asthma and the common cold. This is probably related to the means of transmission of respiratory tract infections, with the veil being so close to the face leading to a wet area in front of the mouth and nose that facilitates the growth of microorganisms
  • “Unmasking the surgeons: the evidence base behind the use of facemasks in surgery” (JRSM, 2015): there is a lack of substantial evidence to support claims that facemasks protect either patient or surgeon from infectious contamination. … Masks are a quintessential part of the surgical attire that has become so deeply ingrained in the public perception of the profession. However, even today, it remains unclear as to whether they confer any tangible benefits to surgical outcomes.

Related (things that Americans aren’t doing because they believe that masks will, in fact, stop the plague):

5 thoughts on “Why rich white Americans believe in masks

  1. I am at the overlap of the “Coastal Elite” and the “Essential Critical Infrastructure Worker.” I have a lot of friends that fall in the Karen category but spend my day with Critical Workers. The company my wife works for is totally at the mercy of the Karens.

    I design high end residential kitchens for a living. If I can’t get Mr. and Mrs. Karen into my showroom, I can’t begin to make the value proposition for my very expensive products and services. My professional associates that sell competitively price products and services are very busy. If you’re a local guy that builds decks and fences you are booked solid for months.

    Mr. and Mrs. Karen are making things difficult in my household in another way: They are the ones that set the capacity numbers in arenas and stadiums. My wife works for a local entertainment business. In that world if you can’t sell tickets, you don’t really have a business.

    Right now the World Series is being played here (which in itself is weird as the Texas Rangers are not in the series). They are only letting in 11,000 people! To the World Series!

    (This is all much worse because the U.S. epicenter was New York City. If Dallas had been the epicenter of the pandemic, the New York media would have yawned. But since the universe revolves around NY media the volume is turned up to 11)

  2. “Looking at infection and hospitalization rates versus mask law dates does not suggest a strong and reliable effect.”

    Here’s a study which compares how quickly people started wearing masks in different countries, and their Covid deaths per capita as of May 9: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.22.20109231v5

    Potential predictors of per-capita coronavirus-related mortality in 200 countries by May 9, 2020 were examined, including age, sex, obesity prevalence, temperature, urbanization, smoking, duration of infection, lockdowns, viral testing, contact tracing policies, and public mask-wearing norms and policies.

    In countries with cultural norms or government policies supporting public mask-wearing, per-capita coronavirus mortality increased on average by just 15.8% each week, as compared with 62.1% each week in remaining countries.

    It’s a preprint, but there’s a comment by the lead author saying that it’s been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal.

    • Junk science. Anyone who has been to the countries where urban population is normally wears masks for colds and missing make-up knows that one of the most striking differences between their cities and Western ones is cleanliness. It’s that basic attention to hygiene – enforced by strong social pressure – which limits the spread of germs, not the useless face diapers which have been shown not to work against airborne viral diseases in dozens of RCTs.

  3. Here’s a large collection of studies and other links that throw doubt on the effectiveness of the general wearing of community masks. Where masks seem to be effective it’s likely that the “cultural norms” mentioned above were the real reason for lower mortality.

    Here’s also the official investigation of a super-spreader event (~1500 infections) in a German slaughterhouse. Well-hidden in the appendix on page 22 (free PDF download at the bottom of the page): the workers were already wearing community masks when the infections occurred. Community masks do nothing to stop aerosol infections which is what happened here.

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