A little mask math

Covid cases in South Dakota and the rest of the nation are shooting up. Why is there still a debate about wearing masks?

Mask wearing doesn’t seem to have much effect

The ability of a mask to stop the spread of a virus is small. We KNOW this. It’s been studied extensively in the past. I could cite a bunch of sources, but I know it’s not worth my time because nobody will check them. This is the internet after all.

Of course, there is the “this time it’s different” objection. The thought is that this virus is different and needs to be treated differently. Fair enough. That was certainly a reasonable objection back in March. What does the data say?

We are over six months in and so far it seems to be that the data is showing basically zero correlation of mask wearing with Covid cases. However, it’s very difficult to isolate a single variable such as masks vs no-masks so we can’t really make any definite conclusions. That said, since there is no obvious correlation, we can conclude that any potential effect is very unlikely to be a large effect.

Therefore, given past studies of other viruses and current data showing no obvious connection, it would seem unlikely that mask wearing has any significant impact on the spread.

What do the numbers say?

However, for the sake of argument, let’s say that it does have a significant effect. What sort of impact could a mask wearing public have on the overall risk of an individual contracting and dying from the virus?

Let’s be super generous and say that a 100% mask-wearing public reduces the chance of spread by 20% versus a 0% mask wearing public.

Let’s say you consider yourself high-risk and that if you get the virus, you have a 1 in 20 chance of dying. Furthermore, you estimate that if you go shopping for groceries your odds of contracting the virus are 1 in 100.

Given those numbers, if you go to the grocery store once per week for 12 weeks, you have an 11.4% chance of getting sick and subsequently a 0.57% (1 in 175) chance of dying.

That’s a fairly small number, but considering what’s at stake is life or death, I’m pretty sure I would not go to the grocery store given those odds.

Now, let’s redo the calculations and adjust the numbers for the hypothetical mask-wearing public.

Alright, so in the new hypothetical mask-wearing utopia your odds of getting sick each time you visit the grocery store are reduced by 20% (1 in 125). And, of course, your odds of dying if you get the disease are still the same 1 in 20.

Once again you visit the store 12 times which gives you a reduced 9.2% chance of contracting the disease along with an overall chance of dying at 0.46% (1 in 218).

And just for good measure, let’s be super unrealistic and say mask-wearing reduces the spread by 50% (1 in 200). Now your odds of getting sick are 5.8% and your odds of dying are 0.29% (1 in 343).

Duck and Cover!

This brings me to my point. Here’s what I don’t get with the “wear your mask” warriors:

You will completely alter and shut down your life to avoid a 1 in 175 chance of dying.

But if everyone’s wearing a mask, suddenly it’s okay to come out and go about your business if it’s only a 1 in 343 chance of dying?

Are you kidding me!?

If I’m someone who is actually afraid of this virus, I’m not going to care if people wear masks or not. I’m staying the hell away from people regardless. I don’t see the potential (unproven) benefit of mask wearing to be significant enough to change my behavior.

In fact, the ideal case would be me doing a hardcore self-quarantine for a few months while the rest of the low risk population goes about their regular business maskless in an attempt to build herd immunity as soon as possible so we can all resume our regular lives.

This “pandemic” reminds me of the duck and cover campaign back in the Cold War. The math doesn’t make sense and the whole situation just stinks of propaganda.

Leave a Reply