Op-Ed: Wearing a mask to slow the spread of the coronavirus proves you value life

Kai U Cheang
  • Face masks may not be 100 per cent effective, but they do more to protect from Covid-19 than not wearing one
  • Not wearing a mask perpetuates a culture of selfish carelessness – something we can’t afford in 2020
Kai U Cheang |

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People around the world, like these in Vancouver, Canada, have protested against anti-coronavirus measures, including wearing masks, but the numbers don't support their arguments. Photo: Xinhua

The first time I contracted influenza, I was 13. Then, the doctor told me it could develop into deadly pneumonia. I understood how fragile life could be for the first time.

Thereafter, wearing a mask became more of a norm than an anomaly for me. I veered away from people who coughed or sneezed without covering their nose or mouth. I believed people who are sick should stay at home (and refrain from attending school or work). If they are not at home, they should wear a mask.

I never imagined that in 2020, we would be battling a novel coronavirus by wearing masks.

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Back then, people laughed at me for wearing face coverings all the time. But now, wearing masks has become a much bigger issue.

Critics offer three arguments against wearing masks. The first is that they are ineffective. The second is that a mask does not protect the wearer; it only prevents a sick person from spreading a virus. The third is that masks can hamper the users’ breathing.

Indeed, masks are not 100 per cent effective. But most things do not need to be 100 per cent effective to work. Tea bags do not ensure that 100 per cent of the tea leaves stay in, but we use them anyway.

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Masks reduce the chance of someone touching their nose or mouth and catching the virus.

There are also asymptomatic carriers, so if everyone wears a mask, we will all be safe.

Another problem with the anti-mask theory is the troubling belief that protecting yourself is more important than protecting others. We happen to live in a world where we meet strangers every day. They happen to value their lives, too.

I would like to clarify that there are people who have medical conditions preventing them from wearing masks. In this case, they would have a doctor’s note explaining this.

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But some people insist that mask-wearing harms them without evidence, conflating a necessity with a preference, thereby trivialising the experience of people who can not wear masks for medical reasons.

Not wearing a mask encourages a culture of carelessness. It perpetuates the belief that we are invincible when we are not. While deluding ourselves into believing we could never catch Covid-19 is a coping mechanism, the truth is that everyone is susceptible. The consequences of this carelessness are visible: hospitals are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients and death rates are rising alarmingly. If you support doctors, nurses and other frontline medical workers who are risking their lives to save others, then wear a mask. If you value your life and the lives of others, wear a mask!

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