Can Face Masks Keep You Safe from COVID-19?

23 December 2020

No church leader wants to tell congregants, “Don’t sing. Don’t join in,” especially at Christmas when we sing carols and unite with others to share the holiday joy during the long, dark nights.

We are continuing to learn about the spread of COVID-19. This virus is finding a way to survive and thrive despite the claims of conspiracy theorists and anti-science hoaxers. However, we can all find ways to stay as safe as possible, protect those we love and get back to quasi-normal interactions with others.

What We Know #

The important aspects of COVID-19 are that it is contagious and that a certain number of people die from the effects of the virus. Mallorca has one of the best medical systems in Europe and, some would say, in the world. However, resources have limits. With a limited number of hospital beds on the island and the limited supply of medications and equipment to mitigate the symptoms, we need to be as cautious as possible.

This past week, news broke of a mutation in the virus that makes transmission 70% more likely. The end result is that we all have more to learn. But we do have a few major case studies that help guide our actions until the management or eradication of the virus. I have included the sources of these studies and all information contained in this article below. My suggestion is that you conduct your own research using scientific sources.

Case in Point #1: Choir Singing #

A COVID-19 superspreader in Washington State, USA, unknowingly infected 53 people with the virus at a choir practice in early March 2020, with two people dying as a result and several others being identified as “long haulers.” 61 people attended that rehearsal and one of them had ‘cold-like’ symptoms. This was two weeks after the state’s governor had issued a stay at home orderBy but churches were exempt.

The choir members took precautions: no hugging and no shaking hands. However, they sang in close proximity to each other then they shared cookies and oranges during a 15-minute break. The choral singers moved chairs without proper social distancing. They did not maintain an appropriate distance of 1.8 metres (6 feet) between each person at all. They did not avoid clusters of gatherings and crowded areas when putting on coats or eating; and, they did not always wearing cloth coverings because the congregants pulled the masks down to eat and speak directly with another individual when sharing the food since they thought they could be better understood.

Other cases of choirs becoming infected emerged at the same time in Amsterdam but scientists could not agree on the cause of infections. That was early in the pandemic. We continue to have people who believe the pandemic is a hoax and governments are trying to control us. We also have fatalists who say, ‘we are all destined to die anyway so let’s just continue to move around as we want, the death rate is low.’ Before we all go doom and gloom, let’s keep reading.

Singer with a facemask

Case in Point #2: The Bus Ride #

In January, 2020, early days into the pandemic – which seems like a century ago – 68 passengers made a 50-minute trip to an event to Ningbo, China aboard two buses. This was a time before face masks were in routine use to protect against the virus. After several of the passengers fell ill, scientists mapped out the seating of all the passengers and tested them for the virus. 23 of the 68 subsequently tested positive for the virus. They were all on the same bus.

The researchers said only one person had been in Wujan (which is not believed NOT to be the Ground Zero for COVID-19) and was probably the carrier but was not yet showing symptoms. The group was making a trip to a religious event. A bus with recirculated air inside the vehicle contributed to the spread of the virus. “The investigations suggest that, in closed environments with air recirculation, SARS-CoV-2 is a highly transmissible pathogen,” they wrote in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine.

Notable findings showed that the sickness infected people in the front and the back of the bus. Passenger Zero was at the front of the bus. This is outside the perimeter of 1 – 2 metres (3 – 6 feet) that authorities continue to say is the proper social distance for protection. Scientists have been cautioning for months that infectious droplets can travel.

To read more on this case, click here >> Study on Infection from Chinese Bus Event

How to wear a facemask

Can I Sing or Cheer at Sporting Events and Stay Safe? #

UK University College London researched the evidence and guidelines for singing with face masks. They put research participants in a solitary small room with a microphone then measured the respiratory particles that were expelled. What they found is that wearing surgical masks produced “very few droplets” that spread infections. That doesn't mean no droplets were emitted so there is a risk.

The way to mitigate the droplets that are dispersed is to maintain a 1.8 metre (6 foot) distance and, if possible, wear eye googles or eye protection to not absorb any droplets in the eyes which are another source of entry for the virus. This will not entirely evade the risks of infection but this can help us lower our viral loads which are considered one of the ways some people do not become as ill as others.

Watch this video of research conducted in Japan which was conducted in a closed chamber that shows the particle spread and recommendations. This better illustrates how to stay safe.

Study: Mask Efficacy

Video illustrating the effects of COVID-19 when in close proximity to another

Click here to watch the video
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Proper Mask Wearing #

Here is a simple illustration of how to properly wear a mask. Over the nose, not under. In the spirit of the season, an elf is admonishing one of the Reindeer. I'm seeing people all over wearing a mask under the nose, covering the mouth. Let's get this right so we can stay safe until the virus is more manageable.

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Conclusion #

We need to get our actions on COVID-19 right if we want to join in karaoke with our friends at the bar or sing hymns in church, if we want to cheer at sporting events or if we want to play musical instruments. We all want to return to some sort of collective living.

Mallorca is a destination for millions of people. The numbers of people allowed on the island will be less in 2021 but the government seems intent on finding ways to allow people to fly in and out, to gather for social events and to restart our economy. This movement brings extreme risks. Do these risks match the great rewards – a short-time of pleasure and paying bills for a life of ill health and the deaths of others?

Scientists will continue to discover more about this virus, the mutations and other viruses that have catastrophic effects on our lives. We have entered a new era of living in civil societies. But if each of us does our part to educate ourselves, our friends and families and we take necessary precautions, we will find a way through this time so that we can all enjoy the Spanish life of sun, sand and sangria.

To see one set of friends who cares and still shares the joy of the holidays, you can watch this personal video >>

Christmas Choir Singing at Andratx Church

Watch our neighbors take proper precautions when singing

Click here to watch this informal video
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23 December, 2020


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