Letter: So why have we all been wearing masks?

This letter was writen by Maggie Stern from Sheffield 8

Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 10:10 am
Public transport users in South Yorkshire wearing masks as they travel by bus.

A recent letter from Jim Steinke asserts that Sheffielders should continue to wear masks when in crowded places or on public transport. He suggests that this is in order to “protect others” and that not to do so would be irresponsible.

I would like to offer an alternative perspective. Firstly may I ask the question, is it true that wearing facemasks effectively protects anyone from SARS-Cov2?

Dr Colin Axon, who advises SAGE on respiratory illness said recently: “Standard face coverings are just “comfort blankets” that do little to reduce the spread of Covid particles.”

A flurry of recent studies has confirmed the ineffectiveness of face masks in preventing viral transmission in real life community settings. In practice, masks may be quite good at stopping droplets (i.e. if an ill person is coughing and sneezing), but they have almost no effect on aerosols - which are the main mode of transmission for respiratory viruses including SARS-Cov2.

So why have we all been wearing masks? It is clear that masks were and are a behavioural tool, not a health measure. The Government’s behavioural scientists recommended the deployment of masks in order to generate an “increased personal sense of threat” and thus to promote compliance with coronavirus restrictions.

If wearing facemasks were a harmless gesture of solidarity in a crisis, and a visual reminder to be extra careful, they would be less of an issue. However, far from being harmless, facemasks have many negative consequences, especially for the more vulnerable among us. Facemasks cause distress and discomfort for many people. Worst affected are likely to be those who suffer from physical illnesses affecting breathing or circulation, or from mental health problems such as anxiety, PTSD or panic attacks.

Exhaustion, headaches, fatigue and dehydration are common. Face masks also create a barrier to communication - particularly if you have hearing difficulties, or if English is not your first language. Their impact on the social and emotional development of children hardly bears thinking about.

Seeing each other’s faces in the course of everyday life is not an optional extra, but an essential human need. Anyone who wishes to continue wearing a facemask, for any reason, is at liberty to do so. However, the shaming and “othering” of those who take a different view is not OK.