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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Mailbag: Face Masks

This week, a reader sent us a comment about our article on the research behind face masks and whether people who aren’t sick should use them to limit the spread of COVID-19. The article reviewed some of the research and thinking behind face masks and explained why opinions are divided.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the email we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.

Wearing Face Masks in Public

Your article [“COVID-19 Face Mask Advice, Explained,” April 6] really saddened me. You need to come to Asia.

I feel your article is only from a Western viewpoint. It is like no one considers what is happening here in Asia, with millions of people, and how everyone here is dealing with it, and successfully. Sure it is hard to get numbers out of China.

People live in high density like New York with many generations in the same rooms, but they each are doing their part for everyone. The virus came here very quickly as Chinese tourists are everywhere in Asia.

But look at the numbers……

  • Taiwan, 21 million people next to China- only 5 deaths!!!!
  • South Korea- 51 million people- only 192 deaths
  • Japan- 126 million people, 92 deaths
  • Hong Kong- 7.3 million- 4 deaths—right next to China. Connecting rail lines and roads
  • Singapore- 6 million- 6 deaths

Sure there are some special conditions in each of these examples, but as a group, so few deaths. Why?? Many reasons, one common simple behavior is they all wear a mask.

We are US citizens living 6 months a year in Thailand and travel in Asia. Have done so for 15 + years.

Everyone, yes everyone wears masks, here. You don’t go outside without it. Naturally we wash hands and keep distance, also. Sanitizer is offered in every shop.

Many people are still working and many shops are open. It is true if you shut everyone inside it will work, but can your economies take this? How many months? Who can afford this? And when you step out and don’t have a mask—more chance of restarting it. A mask protects both you and other people, given that no one knows who may have the virus, it’s essential. Its respectful.

Are Westerners just too vain to do this? Here, we don’t wear N95 masks. They are for health care workers. Many masks are homemade.

Walking down a street with everyone in masks is much safer. May not [be] perfect compared to a closed room.

Be careful, please wear a mask. It is how we respect our fellow citizens.

Gary Soden
Santa Rosa, California