Letter to the editor: Wearing masks mitigates risks

In a June 4 letter to the editor, Peter Ryersbach discouraged use of face masks as a means of preventing community spread of COVID-19. I have known Peter for many years, probably meeting him in my days as an HIV/AIDS prevention trainer, and respect his wise counsel and support the general thrust of his message: measures like wearing masks should be science driven. 

His position on masks is wrong and faulty. First, the science is not finished on this issue. Just last week, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington said, “We have clear evidence that wearing masks works.” Furthermore, the fact that the Science Daily article he quotes uses the word “can” instead of the word “will” is evidence of ... nothing. The word “will” implies 100% effectiveness and no one suggests that masks are a silver bullet. 

Masks, like hand washing, physical distancing, etc., are called mitigation measures. Meaning none of them in isolation prevents the spread, but working together they “mitigate” or reduce the likelihood of infection. For instance, does anyone think that the new Plexiglas shields at the supermarket will prevent the spread?  No, but it will mitigate the spread. 

Lastly, he makes valid points about the misuse of face masks. That should not be a reason for not wearing them but a reason to teach people proper use. Trust me, having learned hand washing as a health prevention worker, most people do not wash hands correctly either. Do I recommend not doing it if you’re not doing it correctly? No, do it anyway. 

Wear a mask. It will help. 

J. Douglas Dows

formerly HIV/AIDS trainer, Vermont Dept. of Education


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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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