Let's Talk Masks

There’s a lot if resistance to wearing masks, and, sadly, the whole issue has become highly politicized.  To make matters worse, some of that has spilled over to the Church.  I thought it might be useful to take a dispassionate look at the question.  I want to look at the topic from a technical perspective and then from a Christian perspective.

First off, do the masks actually do any good?
From a Washington State Department of Health publication, number doh.wa.gov/smokefromfires dated July 2019, there’s an interesting look at face masks and how effective they are.  Now, this is written from the perspective of protecting you as you inhale.  What is says is that N95 masks will help protect you from smoke particles assuming the mask fits right and seals tightly to your face.  A beard would defeat that.  

In contrast, in terms of protecting you from smoke, surgical masks and single strap dust masks do nothing to protect you.  Period.  By extension, neither do cloth masks for the same reasons.  They do not seal to your face, and the air you inhale is mostly coming in from around the sides of the mask.

The reason this is interesting in terms of COVID-19 is that the particle sizes involved are similar.  Smoke particles range in size from 0.01 to 0.1 microns (a micron is 10-6 meters).1  Aerosol droplets exist in a range of sizes, but the majority of droplets are less than 0.5 microns,3 somewhat larger than smoke particles, but still in the same “tiny” range.  

Researchers have found that one of the primary mechanisms for transmission of the virus is through the exhalation of aerosols.2  When we exhale, or talk, or sing, we emit/exhale aerosols, and the virus is riding on these.  These aerosols can remain suspended in the air for extended periods of time.

With this information, we can conclude that a properly fitted N95 mask will help to protect you from the virus.  The other masks, no.  The air you inhale simply goes around the mask edges rather than being drawn through the filter materials, and then into your throat and lungs.  

But… what about protecting the people around you from you?  With the results sited above, the N95 masks will do a good job of helping to protect those around you.  But it is interesting that a study conducted in 2013 found that even surgical masks actually reduced the spread of the flu by up to 30%.4  So, again, it is reasonable to conclude they will accomplish the same thing for the COVID-19 virus.  

From my engineering days working with air filtration systems I can tell you that this takes place as you exhale and the aerosols carried with your breath hit the material in the mask and are trapped there.  Some masks use electrostatic charges to promote this, but most do not.  But… the more of your breath that escapes around the sides of the mask, the more risk you pose to those around you.

Cloth masks are problematic, and the consensus is they’re probably better than nothing.  Cloth mask construction ranges from highly effective and technically designed to being basically nothing more than for show.  The thing is, the more comfortable the mask is to wear, the less effective it will be in capturing aerosols.  

At the end of the day, with the congregational nature of our worship, with the visiting and singing that takes place, church is probably the single most dangerous place you will go this week, at least in terms of the COVID virus.
So, although I don’t like the conclusion, it is most likely that wearing masks do help to reduce the spread of the virus.  There’s the technical side of the conversation.
What about as Christians?]

There are two aspects of the “mask” question that I think should be considered.  The first is what motivates our behavior, and the second is our Christian witness.  Let’s look at motivation first.  
What is it that’s supposed to motivate our behavior?  John 13:34-35 ~ 
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
If I love others the way I claim to, why am I so hesitant to do anything to protect those around me from getting ill?  If a mask helps to protect those around me, if even in only a marginal way, shouldn’t my Christian faith and the love I claim to have prompt me to wear one in congregational settings?  I think so.

Now, I hasten to add that singing is, with this disease, an inherently dangerous practice.  However, this is our worship of God.  For myself, that takes priority.  We will continue to worship corporately through song acknowledging that, health-wise, this is a risky decision.
Now we need to consider perception.  We have these instructions from Peter in 1 Peter 2:11-12 ~ 
11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
The passage goes on to speak about submitting to our governmental leaders.  What is the perception of the world around us?  We, the ones who are called upon in Scripture to honor our leaders, and to care for each other, are the ones standing most defiantly against the government.  This is particularly striking since they’re trying to protect us.  I don’t think it helps our witness…

Again, when it comes to our worship, or any other command from the government that stands in contradiction to the commands of God, we have no choice but to disobey the government.  But, someone please show me how wearing masks is a violation of any biblical principle.

I personally hate the masks.  They make me feel breathless.  I know most of them aren’t actually doing much.  But… do I (and you) really believe, and submit to, Scripture or not?  You have to make that decision.

If you disagree with me, that’s OK, I assume you’re a responsible adult.  Just be fully convinced, based on Scripture, and let that guide your conduct.
So, although I don’t like the conclusion, it is most likely that wearing masks do help to reduce the spread of the virus.  There’s the technical side of the conversation.