Mask Hysteria

By Samantha Milewicz

With COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus, rapidly on the rise, people are more concerned for their health than ever before, but are the measures they are taking going too far? 

What is COVID-19? According to the Center for Disease Control, the novel coronavirus falls under the category of respiratory diseases. While common in animals such as camels, cattle, cats, and bats, it is unusual for this type of virus to jump from animals to humans. Similar to Middle East respiratory-syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), COVID-19 originated from bats. It is believed that this jump took place at a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. As the coronavirus spread to patients who had not been at this market, it became evident that this virus spread from person-to-person contact. 

At first, this virus did not seem that big of a deal, but as time went on, the numbers continued to rise, and the virus infected beyond the borders of China. Coronavirus has spread to the majority of the countries in the world, including all of North America and Europe, and the majority of Asia and South America. Now, the virus has hit closer to home, with 158 confirmed cases in Westchester County out of the 524 total confirmed cases in New York state. On March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency. As the number of cases more than doubles each day, people are looking for ways to prevent getting infected.

While walking down the street, riding the train, and even shopping in the grocery store, you have most likely seen someone with a disposable mask on, or you may even wear one yourself, but wearing these “cautionary” masks may actually be harming you more than they are helping. 

The philosophy behind wearing a mask is that it will prevent one from becoming infected. This is believed because coronavirus is transmitted through the respiratory droplets released when an infected patient coughs or sneezes. Yet, there is no proof that wearing a mask decreases your chances of becoming infected when carrying out everyday actions. Additionally, these droplets that masks are used to prevent against can also transmit through the eyes and small viral particles known as aerosols are able to penetrate masks even if the droplets cannot. When I asked Max Teitlebaum, a freshman, if he would wear a mask to prevent coronavirus, he responded, “No, I would not wear a mask because it doesn’t prevent coronavirus, it only helps contain it once someone is affected.” I followed up with the question, “What are your thoughts on all the people wearing masks to prevent coronavirus?” and he responded, “I think people who aren’t affected wear masks to feel better and more secure from the virus, even though they do not protect them.” 

Additionally, wearing a mask to “prevent” transmission during everyday activities can have negative repercussions— for one’s self and on their surrounding community. Because everybody is buying masks to “protect” themselves, there is a shortage for those who actually need them, such as health care professionals, those caring for an infected patient, and those who are actually infected. This increase in demand for masks from the general public has then led to price gouging and the production of counterfeit products. The price for a box of 100 disposable masks on amazon.com has risen from $4 to $15 in under two weeks. Unfortunately, companies are unable to control the prices of third-party sellers. Due to these unreasonably high prices, medical practices have a shortage of masks, putting doctors and nurses at risk. Moreover, those who are infected and trying to prevent spreading their infection can no longer afford the prices of the masks. When it comes to wearing a mask to protect oneself, one can actually increase their chances of contracting the infection, the complete opposite purpose of wearing the mask. This is due to the fact that many people who buy and wear masks do not know how to properly wear them. For example, when one goes to remove the mask, they may accidentally touch their face after taking it off, possibly contaminating themself. When I asked Mrs. Brocia, a biology teacher, “Is there a point in wearing a mask?”, her response was, “There is no point in wearing a mask if you are trying to protect yourself because you will end up touching your face more trying to adjust the mask.” 

As the coronavirus continues to spread and the number of confirmed cases rise by the day, it is inevitable that more and more will resort to buying masks to protect themselves; but, by doing this, they are putting themselves and their communities at a higher risk for infection. The mass hysteria surrounding the spread of COVID-19 has gone too far and has endangered the lives of too many.