There is an evident reason weather forecasters put out public warnings of extreme weather conditions - public safety.
For some, the work of scientists may be difficult to comprehend, but understanding their good intention is as easy as comprehending why they tell us to bundle up during harsh winters. It is actually a superhero’s work.
Scientists study and give advice. We decide and act for our sake.
However, science and how it affects our decision-making and behavior was somehow obscured in the ongoing pandemic due to coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Take the case of mask-wearing. Despite strong evidence that supports the fact that face-covering reduces the transmission of the virus and saves lives(1), there are still those who oppose wearing a mask. And the debate continues.
The consensus in the community of science is that masks should be worn in public(2). However, some groups have challenged this but the reasons are largely political rather than scientific. Despite scientific evidence that the virus is airborne and can easily be transmitted if without face covering(3), for extreme anti-maskers, non-wearing of masks is no longer due to a lack of awareness but has become a symbol of opposition against restrictive government impositions and a cry for individual freedoms.
Similarly, it did not help that the government’s messaging on face-covering regulations allowed loose interpretations that masks are not mandatory.
The World Health Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health, has consistently advocated for face masks and issued guidelines regarding their recommended use. This became the blueprint for the rest of the world to understand the preventative value of face covering.
What was the effect of immediately adopting face-covering in public? It saved lives.
A study of 198 countries, on the use of masks in public spaces and testing during the height of the global-wide lockdown, showed that nations that quickly resorted to the widespread use of masks had far lower death rates and shorter outbreaks(4).
In East Asian countries, where government leaders firmly implemented the use of face masks at the onset of the outbreak, the mortality was as much as 100 times less severe, in comparison to other nations with more flexible guidelines(5). For example, Vietnam, which acted quickly on facemask protocols, has had a 99-day streak of no Covid-19 case reported(6). Places known for their high population density like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau have effectively curbed their numbers of virus infections because of masks.
In Latin America, Venezuela’s president even publicly demonstrated how to properly wear a mask and reap the result of having significantly lesser cases(7). Its neighbor, Brazil, has logged in a staggering number of fatalities due to slow response to face mask mandates(8).
Some countries in Europe initially had a different approach like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and The Netherlands since their outbreaks have been relatively contained(9). Later, they have all reversed their facemask guidelines after suffering from the backlash of Covid-19 infections(10).
Furthermore, polemic leaders such as former US President Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, have publicly derided the use of masks and refused to be seen wearing them before their constituents. However, they had to be painfully reminded of the costs of gambling with public health when the virus also infected them(11).
In Canada, there were complaints about the unclear and inconsistent federal and provincial policies regarding local implementations of face masks. Some people have even publicly protested against wearing it(12). Fortunately, the general populace trusted the scientists and medical experts about the benefits of following government guidelines in good faith rather than taking them with a grain of salt(13).
With the experiences of mentioned countries, it is understood that the early implementation of clear public health guidelines can effectively battle any pandemic and bring it under control. This shows that relying on science and not on “people’s common sense” can bring positive results.
The rejection of the science behind facemasks and the refusal to wear them is not a novelty. During the 1918 Flu pandemic, people who refused to wear masks were referred to as “slackers” who viewed masking as a constraint of their freedom and mocked it as putting on muzzles(14). In summary, the narrative of the opposition is a mere flexing of individual liberty and choice. In addition, it is combined with unfettered belief in conspiracy theories of “planned pandemic” or “plandemic”, even though this has no scientific basis(15). Anti-Maskers dismiss public health protocols that work for their safety and benefit, instead, they choose to ignore these guidelines(16).
The overwhelming findings on the effectiveness of facemasks showed that wearing them has saved, and will continue to save, millions of lives. Educating citizens, regardless of the resistance of some, will help make people trust that science works. Although a great number of scientists agree that wearing masks is safe, effective, and vital to protect everyone, the messaging about them must be effective and unequivocal. Clear information will lessen, if not avoid, any room for misinterpretations.
The facts and scientific data must be honestly relayed to the public and not manipulated for political gain or to serve any private interests.
Scientists have always been there working for and with governments to create public health policies, and governments have a massive role to play. For instance, they must draw clear policies and promptly make them known to the public. In the face of a serious health crisis, is the government’s obligation to keep everyone safe, regardless of political views and beliefs. Leaders must not waffle in their message of obedience for public safety and welfare.
Then soon, like wearing winter coats during extreme cold, people’s behavior towards safety will no longer be rocket science.
Scientists and health experts are superheroes for wearing masks in public. It is to protect not only themselves but also their loved ones from the danger of being exposed to enemies, villains, and viruses. So when a person advocates for not wearing facemasks or spreading disinformation through twisted science and baseless theories to the public, is certainly a supervillain move.