The magical mask and the mystical six-foot distance will save you from a respiratory virus that spreads as prolifically as a cold. Or at least we've been told that by our overlords for the past six months. The problem is that the virus has been spreading like wildfire despite the overwhelming majority of people adhering to these two rituals with the zealous faith of an Islamic fundamentalist.
Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admits that the virus can spread further than six feet. What they fail to admit, but what is nonetheless incontrovertibly clear from their admission, is that masks do not work.
The notion that a virus would spread this profusely from large visible droplets was always dubious. Yes, it's possible to sneeze droplets into someone's mouth, but aside from an adult holding her infant baby who sneezes, this is really not very common, especially with people keeping their distance.
Droplets are very heavy and gravity forces them to the ground immediately. Yes, there are likely times when someone hits a half-court shot with their sneeze and gets a visible droplet directly into someone's mouth, but there is no way that anomaly can account for all the spread.
In comes the CDC on Monday and admits what we have always known — that in addition to large droplets, there are tiny atomized particles of the virus that are emitted every time a person breaths or speaks, much less coughs or sneezes. These virions are so small that they are usually about 1/20 the size of common bacteria. As such, they can remain suspended in the air and infect someone else, primarily indoors where there is poor ventilation and no wind.
While the CDC claims this is not the primary source of transmission (they need to protect the mask mandates!), they concede that in enclosed spaces where an infected individual had been present for a longer period of time, these aerosols can remain suspended for a while and travel more than six feet.
While they downplay this form of transmission as "uncommon," the reality of the past six months tells a different story. As I've chronicled, masks have not worked to stop the spread anywhere they have been mandated with full compliance. Here is a collection of charts from RationalGround.com showing the failure of masks to stop the very spread mask supporters are now panicking over.
What this demonstrates is that the CDC's slow and reluctant revelation of the existence of SARS-CoV-2 airborne transmission is a lot more significant than they are willing to admit. On Monday, a group of medical researchers from Harvard University, University of California, and University of Maryland warned of "an urgent need" to educate the public on the problem of microscopic suspended particles vs. droplets and the actions needed to combat that mode of transmission.
In a letter to Science Mag, the researchers warned that there is a big distinction between the much-vaunted droplets that are 100 μm (100 micrometers) and the microscopic particles that are usually 60-140 nanometers, or on average, 0.1 micrometers. While droplets are tiny, they are still visible and fall to the ground. The virions, which are at least 1,000 times smaller, are only visible through a scanning electron microscope. The difference, according to the authors is enormous:
Viruses in droplets (larger than 100 μm) typically fall to the ground in seconds within 2 m of the source and can be sprayed like tiny cannonballs onto nearby individuals. Because of their limited travel range, physical distancing reduces exposure to these droplets. Viruses in aerosols (smaller than 100 μm) can remain suspended in air for many seconds to hours, like smoke, and be inhaled. They are highly concentrated near an infected person, so they can infect people most easily in close proximity. But aerosols containing infectious virus can also travel more than 2 m and accumulate in poorly ventilated indoor air, leading to superspreading events.
In other words, because the virions of the coronavirus are roughly 100 nanometers, 1/10,000 the width of a hair and 1/30 the size of surgical mask filtrations (about 3.0 microns or 3,000 nanometers), surgical masks do not help. Cotton masks are really pathetic. The hydraulic diameter of cotton is roughly 200 microns, 1,429 times the size of the larger aerosol.
As a friend of mine noted on Twitter, "If you were driving down a tunnel in a truck, the aerosol being the pickup, the tunnel would be 1.83 MILES WIDE."
Consider how these researchers compare aerosols to smoke inhalation. We already know that the government has warned for years that masks do not work against smoke particles. Most wood smoke particles are about 1,000 nanometers (1 micron), which is 10 times larger than SARS-CoV-2 virions.
Obviously, given that the mask mandate is a sacrament, no respected scientist can openly oppose it. Thus, the authors say to continue wearing masks. But if you read between the lines, they are making a mockery out of the mandate by noting that droplet transmission is rare and suspended aerosols are the main form of transmission.
Individuals with COVID-19, many of whom have no symptoms, release thousands of virus-laden aerosols and far fewer droplets when breathing and talking. Thus, one is far more likely to inhale aerosols than be sprayed by a droplet, and so the balance of attention must be shifted to protecting against airborne transmission.
So, what's the solution?
There is no solution to this problem other than essentially cancelling life as we know it, at least indoors, for the remainder of our lives.
In addition to existing mandates of mask-wearing, social distancing, and hygiene efforts, we urge public health officials to add clear guidance about the importance of moving activities outdoors, improving indoor air using ventilation and filtration, and improving protection for high-risk workers.
The good news is that the entire premise of panicking over a virus that has a fatality rate of a pandemic flu and presents itself as more mild than the flu for most people is absurd.
As the president and his top coronavirus adviser, Scott Atlas, said this week, it's time to face the fear head on. We have no other choice. The masks and the six-feet rituals don't work. It's time we recognize that there is no reason to hide from this virus, nor do we have the ability to do so anyway.
This story has been updated.