Masketology down the East Coast

What happens when a society that is so organized and detail-oriented that it needs to buy all of its integrated circuits from Taiwan, China, Japan, and Korea (and stop making cars when those countries can’t meet demand) tries to use facemasks to stop a deadly respiratory virus? Here’s a report on a trip by small plane from Maine to Florida at the end of August 2021.

(Note that cloth facemasks worn by the general public completely failed in a randomized controlled trial and surgical mask usage achieved only an 11-percent reduction in coronaplague levels (hailed as a huge success by #Science!).)

The trip began with a JetBlue flight from PBI to BOS. For maximum COVID-19 safety, every seat was occupied. The atmosphere was similar to a Hollywood portrayal of a prison galley, with flight attendants constantly hassling passengers regarding (1) where they stood while waiting for the bathroom, and (2) the extent to which they were wearing a mask. All masks came off at roughly the same time, naturally, when the same flight attendants served drinks and snacks to everyone at the same time.

Maskachusetts towns and cities were just in the process of reimposing mask orders (“In Fauci and vaccines we trust, but not enough to de-mask.”)

Despite the sign, mask usage was about 50 percent among customers and staff at a tire shop where I was trying to nurse our 2007 Infiniti far enough to be sold. In a tightly packed diner, none of the customers wore masks #BecauseEatingAndDrinking

In addition to masks, the USPS in Watertown was relying on the Plexi barriers that #Science now says are worthless:

While waiting in line, I observed that most customers and postal workers would lean around the partition in order to communicate clearly.

To avoid the remains of Hurricane Ida and general areas of thunderstorms down the coast, I started south by heading north, to Bar Harbor, Maine. Hancock County is now under an indoor mask order, but the local businesses are not necessarily complying. One shop door says “Your mask, your decision.” (fighting words to a California voter!) Other shops had out of date signs, e.g., one regarding a May 24, 2021 mask order rescission.

Acadia National Park told people to wash hands with soap and water, but despite the $6 trillion annual federal budget, there are no bathrooms available (sometimes outhouses) where these instructions could be followed. (Florida, by contrast, seems to have government-run usually-clean bathrooms everywhere that tourists might visit.) I like the primary focus on government employee welfare: “Help keep rangers and other visitors healthy.” Visitor health is important, but ranger health is #1. Except for a few Asians, I didn’t see anyone on the (crowded) trails wearing masks.

Eventually a high pressure system moved in and it was time to depart from my friend’s oceanfront quarantine facility. President Biden has ordered that all airports enforce mask usage. At least the national FBO chains have interpreted this to include facilities for private aircraft. I don’t want to rat out specific FBOs for fear that the Federal Virtue Enforcement Agency will come after them, but at small airports the effect of this order is nil. At the biggest airports, the corporate overlords’ influence is stronger, especially on the behind-the-desk customer service reps. There are expensively-printed banners reminding everyone to follow Biden’s orders. Here’s a picture cropped to hide the FBO chain’s name:

The “line guys” (almost always it is people identifying as “men” who wish to work outdoors in temps ranging from -10 F to +105 F and winds up to 50 knots) don’t bother with masks indoors or out. If you’re driving a truck filled with 2,000 gallons of jet fuel, maybe you don’t spend a lot of time worrying about a virus?

What actually happens, though, when the corporate overlords follow Dr. Joe Biden, M.D. and impose a mask requirement? At the biggest FBO where I stopped (name withheld to protect the guilty from the U.S. Marshalls), all of the non-line employees sported masks… under the chin or under the nose. To be fair, there was one employee, perhaps age 40 and looking slender/healthy, who wore a mask properly over her nose and mouth. She was training a new hire at a distance of about 1.5′ (feet, not meters). Every time that she spoke, in order to make sure that the new hire understood, she would pull the mask away from her face.

How about at Great Falls, Virginia? Population growth via immigration plus the growth of government spending pushing the D.C.-area population higher has resulted in 30-minute lines to get into the parking lot (except when the park is entirely closed due to the parking lot being full). Out of an abundance of caution, the taxpayer-funded visitor center has been closed for 1.5 years. People will need to get their COVID-19 at the retail stores that are open all around the park, rather than in the park itself.

How about President Biden’s order that masks be worn whenever people are outdoors in federal parks, but not well-spaced? Is there more respect for this than what we found in the Everglades back in April? At Great Falls, the order was ignored by roughly 90 percent of visitors (who numbered 1000+). See below for some of the Mask Righteous. One is unmasked, but has put a mask on his toddler (see Wright Brothers on the science of COVID-19 for a discussion of how it can make sense for one household member to wear a mask when on an excursion, but not everyone). The slender young person has ventured beyond the fence to the edge of the gorge, swollen to near-historic levels by Hurricane Ida. He/she/ze/they will be coronavirus-free before joining the dozens who have drowned in the past 20 years at Great Falls:

At a coffee shop in North Carolina, only about 1 in 25 customers were masked. My friend has been a righteous Facebook denouncer of Trump and a supporter of Biden, masks, and lockdowns, but he did not voluntarily wear a mask inside the crowded counter service shop.

At an FBO in Georgia, still fighting the transmission-via-surfaces war (#SalvationViaLysol):

This is walking distance to Southern Soul Barbeque, where I defended against COVID-19 in the traditional American manner, i.e., consuming plenty of fried okra and hush puppies. Why bother to lose weight when confronted with a virus that kills the obese when instead one can rely on government orders to don cloth face coverings?

Here’s the Shuttle Landing Facility to prove that I made it to Florida:

Biden mask order compliance was actually higher in Florida than in the other states, with one indoor FBO employee wearing a mask at my destination (“1 out of 20 ain’t bad”!). Mask usage outside the airport, e.g., at supermarkets, was much higher than in other states, despite not being required. Of course, this could be partly due to the fact that Florida was just getting over a COVID-19 hospitalization surge:

The peak was towards the end of August. Now that I look at this chart, one thing that is interesting is how easy it is to convince Americans to panic. Florida was portrayed as a disaster area by the media and I was cautioned by multiple friends and family members not to go near this Land of Death in which they were running out of places to stack the dead bodies. At the very height of the recent plague, roughly 17,000 people were in the hospital in Florida with a COVID-19 positive PCR test. The state is home to nearly 22 million people, however. So a person who had 150 friends still had a 90 percent probability of not knowing anyone who was in the hospital for/with COVID-19. (Take the probability that a friend is not in the hospital and then multiply that by itself 150 times):

type “(1-17000/22e6)^150” into Wolfram Alpha if you want to check.)

A country that spends 20 percent of GDP on health care, in other words, purportedly can’t cope with 1 in 1,300 people needing hospital care for a respiratory virus (actually perhaps closer to 1 in 2,000 since “COVID-19 hospitalizations” in the U.S. include people who are there for some other reason and test positive for an asymptomatic coronavirus infection). Maybe this is true, in which case we might want to ask what we’re getting for our $4 trillion per year (Bloomberg does). But more likely it is false, especially in light of the fact that hospital care for COVID-19 is probably not any better than home care (nytimes).

I stopped in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Virginia (Dulles and Roanoke), North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. In not a single place did I see a group of Americans wearing masks consistently and correctly, despite, at least at the airports, presidential orders that they do so and, in many cases, local orders that masks be worn.

(How about the flying, you might ask? An instrument approach was required to get into BHB (Maine). I needed to climb to 11,500′ to get over some bumpy clouds in Florida. Steering around heavy rain cells was required to make the final approach into SUA (Stuart, Florida). Otherwise, it was good VFR weather and a student pilot could easily have made the trip. Lesson: If you’re willing to be flexible on timing, a Cirrus can be a useful mode of transportation, but flexibility needs to be measured in days, not hours!)

Why write all of the above, you might ask? I’m thinking this will be a useful data point for historians 50 or 100 years from now who want to know what Americans actually did in 2021. They’ll have ready access to the rulers’ orders, but won’t know how these were implemented by the subjects.

26 thoughts on “Masketology down the East Coast

  1. Do masks help with other airborne illnesses? Given that my employer has announced that I will be mandatory work from home though January 2022, I suspect that when I emerge that I will die from the common cold since I have not been exposed to anything for 2 years. Maybe when I come out of the bunker a mask might not be a bad choice.

    • A surgical mask would protect others from you not you from others. You’d need a fit tested N95 to protect yourself from other people’s colds.

    • @Brian – nope. Surgical mask is totally useless against airborne viruses. There is no ifs and no buts, the science on that has been settled – empirically, via actual RCTs – long before COVID. (These masks are ideal breeding grounds for bacteria, though.)

      And the part about “protecting others” is just stupid. There is no plausible physical mechanism for that, couldn’t be. It’s pure propaganda, tailored and focus-group tested to make masked feel morally superior to those of us who actually understand science and are not gullible enough to unthinkingly believe the official BS.

  2. Who will be the 1st to make a video while landing an SR-20 on the shuttle landing facility? There are some low approaches, but no-one has ever made a video of landing & actually walking on it.

    • I don’t know about a video, but I actually did land there in January 2020, then taxied to the ramp area you see near the numbers of Runway 33 and got out and walked around a bit. (We were invited by some astronauts who are in an aviation group of which I am a member.)

  3. “Out of an abundance of caution, the taxpayer-funded visitor center has been closed for 1.5 years.”

    A friend works for NASA at the Kennedy Space Center. She’s been 100% work from home for 18 months at full pay (plus annual raise). She’s commented that all she needs to do is check her work email a couple of time a day.

  4. I think it’s clear now that lockdowns, masking and quarantine must be done properly or not at all. Islands like Taiwan had some success (China also claims success but I’m not sure if the figures can be trusted).

    For entertainment (true believers say the graphs are cherry-picked):

    https://www.covidchartsquiz.com/

    • Everything is hailed as a success until it isn’t. Lockdowns can be effective on islands? You note Taiwan, but in the past the most common choice of island to present as an example of winning the war against COVID was New Zealand. Even our host has regularly used them as an example of what can be done with natural borders. Well, they have been in hard lockdown since mid August (like, everything shut down, don’t leave your house except to get food). They are now easing back to “level 3”, in which pretty much everything is still closed but you can have a social bubble:
      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/sep/20/new-zealand-covid-update-new-cases-outside-auckland-could-delay-lockdown-easing

      So basically they are back in lockdown with no end in sight. If spending 2+ months per year in lockdown is winning the war, I’d rather be someplace that is losing.

      Same thing for China, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/02/millions-under-strict-lockdown-china-covid-outbreak

    • RS: I think in an “ideal” lockdown with infinite space and resources every human would get a tent for himself/herself/zirself/themselves. Also, space the tents 50m apart and give everyone food for three weeks. Now there is a full lockdown with the military patrolling in hazmat suits.
      According to the current #Science, this should eradicate the virus.

      My guess is that Taiwan comes closer to that “ideal”, because people are naturally more aware of respiratory viruses, don’t have corona parties during lockdown, perhaps don’t meet on Tinder. I also rate the ability of a Chinese person to put on a mask properly substantially higher than that of a European or American.

      I don’t think we ever had a proper lockdown in either Europe or the USA. In Europe that hasn’t been the goal anyway: The goal was to #FlattenTheCurve so ICUs could still accommodate geriatric politicians in case they get sick from anything else.

      For Europe, do nothing like Sweden would have been the best strategy.

  5. I’m at a loss to explain why you have never been approached by National Public Radio for your invaluable insights and travelogues documenting on-the-ground and in-the-air experiences with real people in real situations during the Pandemic. If anyone approaches you too quickly, make sure you have space behind you into which you can retreat! 🙂 And in the meantime, thank you again for your perspicacity, because I would do this if I could.

  6. You have your own plane and travel through multiple states. You could be taking pictures of lots of cool things, but at least you’ve created a niche industry — mask-sign tourism. Maybe you can create a coffee table book of your pictures someday. MyPillow can give it away with the purchase of two pillows or more.

    • Mike, you make it sound like useless mask wearing and mandates are something few crazy people engaged into (true about issuing mandates) and Philip is digging dirt from under the rocks and visiting dark corners to see mask-related malarkey. Not sure where you leave and whether you are getting out sometimes but I have to travel for business it is everywhere and especially intense whenever blue state government or large business is concerned. Great that Philip is capturing it for posterity,.

  7. (I only skimmed this article but you do have at least one error — the sentence before your formula [by itself 150 times])

  8. I find this incredibly entertaining and useful. Thank you for taking the time to write. I’m disappointed to have missed you on your Great Falls visit. I am here in Fairfax,Va and originally from the “Metro west” Maskachusetts area.
    I would look forward to a meet up if you are back in the area. Perhaps we can watch you in the 737 simulator out in Gaithersburg at the Dream Aero Simulator?

  9. Philip, I agree with your sentiment expressed in the post, but in calculating probability of knowing people who were sick you made a conceptual error – your formula gives probability of all of your friends not being hospitalized with coronavirus at a specific moment of time. Ideally we want cumulative number of total hospitalizations for a meaningful time interval. It is not as easy as calculating are below daily hospitalizations graph line because length of individual hospitalization varies. Knowing average # of days in the hospital with coronavirus would help too.

    • LSI: your calculation would be interesting too, but I actually was interested in the snapshot situation. We have media-driven panic in the sense that the typical person wouldn’t have had any reason to know that anyone was in the hospital with Covid unless he/she/ze/they consumed media.

    • philg: it is interesting that there is no new hospital admissions chart even though number for previous days new hospital admissions is provided. And why there is no hospital discharges numbers are provided? To add new admissions graph seems to be reasonable and is easy to total over any time interval. I thought that someone may still get scared even one or two week another of his/her acquaintances is admitted with corona-panic to hospital and released after a week which under normal circumstances would generate $10K + bill even though at present moment none are in the hospital. But I too do not know how those dirty cloth masks help. Space helmet with oxygen supply could potentially help.

  10. There _could_ be an error in your formula, but I am not sure.

    I reason as follows: Let _N_ be the size of the population, _I_ the number of infected persons and _F_ the number of friends a person has. A person may have C_N^F combinations of _F_ friends (where C is the symbol for combinations). Each of the combinations is equally probable. In order to have only non-infected friends we must choose our friends from the pool of N-I people. So the number of combinations of non-infected friends is C_{N-I}^F.

    Therefore the probability of having only non-infected friends is C_{N-I}^F / C_N^F. This is

    (N-I)(N-I-1)(N-I-2)…(N-I-F+1) divided by
    N (N-1) (N-2) … (N-F+1).

    I’ve plugged in the values (N=22e6, I=17000, F=150) and got 0.89, same as you. This because (N-I-F+1)/(N-F+1) = 1 – I/(N-F+1) of my formula is almost indistinguishable from 1 – I/N of your formula.

    • Adso: I think resorting to combinations is necessary when you’re trying to figure out the probability of having, e.g., exactly 5 friends in the hospital (since any 5 of your 150 will qualify ). It shouldn’t be necessary for calculating the probability of 0 friends in the hospital (since there is only one way for that to happen).

    • Philip’s formula from the post should match sum of ordered permutations calculation from 1 to 150 groups for single day (in approximation as data provided, since time itself is very close to continuous and intro-day hospital population varies). Philip’s formula takes probability that any random person in Florida is not hospitalized with coronavirus at any specific day and further calculates this probability for 150 random people. Of course someone’s friend distribution is not random.

  11. The randomness of the masking is striking. On a trip to Austin on Jet Blue the obligatory announcement about masking is made at the start and then nothing further while on the return an officious stew on handing out little snacks informs each customer that once the snack is consumed the mask must go back on. For restaurants on entry there is typically a sign that masks are required but once one walks the five yards to the table the mask comes off and that seems fine with everyone. Some people put the mask back on when they get up to leave & others don’t. In all restaurants all of the staff are tightly masked but none of the patron are and in low cost ethnic restaurants they seem especially officious about requiring a mask on entry and exit. A possible explanation is that the higher end restaurants are afraid of criticism on social media while the ethnic restaurants are afraid of interaction with law enforcement. At the Texas state capital (well worth a visit) none of the employees, tour guides or law enforcement are masked while about half the visitors are. The young African American man carrying a well worn Bible delivering a loud jeremiad in the rotunda about the evils of abortion, same sex marriage, and wokism is not masked — nor is his colleague filming him. (Interestingly, although lots of law enforcement around none saw fit to try to cut short what the preacher had to say). Of the two realtors who showed us around one was masked (she said her husband was vulnerable and that doctors wear masks in the operating room so they must accomplish something) while the other, a lot younger, was unmasked and didn’t remark on that fact. In the hotels all of the employees are masked while in the hotels’ public spaces some customers mask and others don’t. Didn’t see any government sponsored signage regarding covid or masking & in the small towns west of Austin no seemed masked.

  12. The masked child with unmasked presumptive father on the picture might be explained by outgrowth of park mask policy. I visited a state park and it had following policy: children below 12 all must wear masks once inside of spaces such as store, museum or on a boat; they could and did play in packed playgrounds without the mask. Adults were presumed to be of only vaccinated kind (no questions asked) and were not required masks in the museum, stores or an a boat. The policy did not address teenagers at all. The staff car in the parking lot had old “I am with her” stickers on it.

    • Yeah I would also guess this is someone who listened to the “you can stop wearing a mask but only if vaccinated” guidance, and so stopped wearing a mask but forces his unvaccinated (and ineligible) child to continue wearing one. I saw a lot of this during the summer while traveling throughout the country. What’s especially in this case is that the individual seems to have ignored the subsequent CDC guidance that there is no longer any relationship between masking and vaccination status, and everyone should wear masks regardless of vaccination. Another interesting way in which the masking and lockdown adherents show aspects of a religion – keep the commandments you like, ignore the ones you don’t. My level of orthodoxy is the correct one, anyone who does less than me is a sinner going to hell (or, dying of COVID in this religion) and anyone who does more than me is just being silly and taking things too far.

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