Editorial: All Kansans should wear life-saving masks

The Editorial Advisory Board
Topeka Capital-Journal

First, the good news. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s second executive order calling for mask use has persuaded a sizable number of counties to join the club. According to a story in last week’s Topeka Capital-Journal from Andrew Bahl and Titus Wu, at least 60 of Kansas’ 105 counties now have mask mandates.

Which brings us to the bad news. What on earth are the rest of the counties thinking about? Why are they dragging their heels in the middle of a pandemic?

One would think that by this point, at this stage in the game, everyone would be on the same page regarding masks. Are they perfect? Of course not. Are they an essential tool in controlling spread and reducing illness? Absolutely.

You know who uses masks and face coverings as part of their daily work? Doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. Do you know who might actually understand the science behind transmission of viruses? Doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.

That’s the only proof you should need.

Some folks protest that the cloth face coverings used by most of us aren’t as protective as those used in the health care field. That’s true! But the seat belts we wear in our cars every day surely aren’t as protective as the helmets and harnesses used by race car drivers. That doesn’t mean we don’t wear them.

Just like race car drivers, health care professionals face unusual and extreme situations. They need and deserve a higher level of protection. The rest of us are hopefully able to avoid such situations and can rely on simpler and cheaper methods.

Let’s deal with a couple of other objections really quickly.

Yes, in the first couple of months of the pandemic health care officials didn’t recommend masks. There were two reasons for this. First, there were nationwide shortages of personal protective equipment, and health care workers needed what was available. Second, it wasn’t yet entirely clear that masks would offer substantial protection in everyday use.

Medicine is science, and science evolves with information. As we learn things, recommendations shift. Such was the case with masks, with evidence eventually becoming overwhelming that they prevented transmission from asymptomatic patients and offered a measure of protection as well.

Second, some would-be scientists object to the notion that microscopic particles, such as viruses, could be stopped by a cloth mask. The coronavirus doesn’t spread on its own, however. It travels in saliva or mucus droplets expelled when people talk, cough or breathe. A tightly woven fabric mask, with multiple layers, is indeed excellent at stopping those droplets.

So there you have it. Masks work. They protect people. Right now, Kansans should wear them — and not just Kansans in 60 counties.