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How to promote widespread usage of high quality, reusable masks

by Tsunayoshi1 min read20th Apr 202014 comments

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A friend of mine made a very convincing case on LessWrong for widespread usage of high quality masks. I am reposting here because we expect greater knowledge of affecting change through public health campaigns etc.:

"Surgical masks do not form an airtight seal to the face and thus can't reliably prevent transmission. Achieving a tight fit with FFP masks is tricky and at least requires some practice. A recent post on LessWrong suggested the use of reusable masks with replaceable filters and body made out of silicone..."

"These masks (also sometimes called respirators) are available in different sizes and can be equipped with filters of N99 / P3 standard. Safe usage should be much easier to achieve than with FFP masks due to the mask body having a flexible silicone edge that can form a tight seal with the face. [...] They are more expensive than the other mask types (~50$), but can be easily mass-produced using injection molding. Thus, widespread use of such masks seems highly desirable and might play a big part in reducing effective transmission rates without requiring severe social-distancing measures. Compared to the economic costs of these measures, the cost of providing these masks to everyone, at least in industrialized countries, seems to be negligible. "

Call to action

"Given the plausibility and potential benefit of the idea described above, it is urgent that we take action to promote it or figure out if it is wrong. I strongly encourage the readers of this post to:

  • Share the idea widely and try to convince influential people.
  • Buy a mask for yourself, friends, and family; wear them when you're in public (or generally close to people that you don't live with) to protect yourself and others and increase social acceptance.
  • Use 3D printers and share potential designs; distribute self-made masks to people in need of protective equipment.
  • Reach out to groups which are at high risk of infections and with an interest in protecting themselves (e.g. nurses in nursing homes).
  • Suggest further ideas and point out potential problems in the comments."
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I appreciate you coming up with innovative ideas to stop C19, but I strongly downvoted this for the following reasons:

1. See Greg Lewis interview on the 80k podcast (https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/greg-lewis-covid-19-global-catastrophic-biological-risks/) especially the last 25 mins on EA community mistakes on the c19 response (he mentions that facemasks in particular can actually be net negative - I realize this is slightly different, yet still applies to this post).

2. especially here you have a direct call to action to spread this aggressively on social media.

3. There does seem to be a cost-effectiveness analysis and so we don't know whether this is worth anyone's time.

But I think it's important for people to come up with innovative ideas. I think what would be better is to send this directly to junior people in this field (say junior authors of this paper: https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/study-identifies-275-ways-to-reduce-spread-of-coronavirus-following-lockdown and ask them whether this might be something interesting - the ideas being that they're in a better position to judge whether it's really effective policy and worth more senior people's currently very precious time and pass it on to them.

I agree with the approach of individuals controlling spread through cheap effective masks. If the portal of entry and exit of this virus is the mouth, nose and eyes, (fecal is debateable) then if everyone contained transmission through these openings, the pandemic would be over.

There is a lot of talk about vaccines and treatments and seclusion, but these are complex, prone to failure, and have very clear negative/unintended consequences.

Effective masks are simple, can be implemented rapidly, confer benefits at the margin, and the negative consequences are harder to see, although certainly worth considering (ie- making it harder for healthcare workers).

Therefore, we should look hard for cheap effective masks, or demonstrate why it's a bad idea.

I also agree that the seal is important as well as reusability.

My hospital uses full face snorkel masks with N-99 filter, though this is extremely uncomfortable for significant periods of time and difficult to talk. These masks exist in large affordable quantities on Amazon/Walmart. I'm working on making adjustments to this for comfort, but not making a lot of progress. https://www.pneumask.org/

The benefit appears to be that it covers the eyes as well as the mouth nose, but the cost of comfort is not worth it long term.

Another challenge is fashion. It just feels weird to wear an intense-looking mask in public. It may be worthwhile to spend some time pushing on this area, especially because there is some stigma to not wearing a mask at all.