- - Monday, November 9, 2020

The man behind the mask is Joe Biden. As a candidate for president, Mr. Biden has spoken strongly in favor of face mask mandates as a means of suppressing the spread of COVID-19. With the coronavirus spiking again, a coronavirus task force appointed by a President Biden is likely to urge states to implement orders that masks must be worn outside the home. While the coverings foster a sense of personal protection, there is little to reassure Americans that such directives will bend down the upward curve of disease.

The disheartening deduction is derived from analysis of the effectiveness of mask-wearing and social distancing in places where the practices are already widespread. YouGov COVID-19 behavior changes tracker finds that, for example, in Germany, frequently touted as a model for public health efficiency, around 60% of citizens reported they have avoided crowded public places since April. A mask mandate was instituted the same month.

The World Health Organization’s coronavirus dashboard shows that both confirmed cases and deaths in Germany subsequently fell sharply and remained miniscule until early October. Irrespective of uninterrupted mask and distance practices, virus cases have soared like a missile since then, surpassing 20,000 per day on Nov. 6. Deaths have surged as well, though they remain less frequent than during the spring outbreak, thankfully.

In contrast, Swedes have eschewed religious use of face masks, with only around 8% wearing them regularly in public. After an initial period in April when nearly 80% avoided public places, the proportion has gradually dwindled to less than 60%. Still, cases have surged just as in Germany, breaking the 4,000 per day mark on Oct. 31. Deaths, though, have remained in the single digits. Infections are worsening in virtually all European nations and much of the developed world.

To lead the United States out of the pandemic, Mr. Biden would have citizens arm themselves with the disposable, baby-blue face covering ubiquitous in hospitals or those colorful cloth masks that double as fashion accessories.

Since June, more than 70% of Americans have been masking up, and 80% do so currently. Moreover, between 65% and 70% have been steering clear of crowds since the spring. Despite these precautions, the U.S. suffered a second wave of infections during the summer and is currently amid a third one that has just topped the 100,000 per day level. Deaths have remained nearly flat, fortunately, an indication that current treatments are improving.

The bitter fact is that COVID-19 is rampaging again, sparing neither nations with widespread mask usage nor those without. A nationwide mask mandate may contribute more than simply a salutary psychological effect, but a President Biden will, like Donald Trump, have few other options than to urge Big Pharma to hurry with an effective vaccine, and to reassure a distraught public that help is on the way.

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