Mask mandates should be reintroduced to stop our rising death rate

Today is Wednesday and as usual I feel as though I can roam a bit freer than usual. Today I have some great music but also my latest views on sustainable urban development and the hot topic in Australia at the moment of whether or not the Australian government should reintroduce mask mandates in certain settings given that Covid is rapidly accelerating and our death rate is now at unacceptably high levels and rising. There is a lot of guff on Twitter etc about the oppression of these sorts of restrictions. But wearing a mask is a simple way to protect oneself and those around us. It is hardly a symbol of authoritarianism and conspiracy to destroy our freedom. I see it as basically a civic responsibility. I am in a very small minority though. As usual. Tomorrow I will get back to economics.

Covid and masks

Back in 1347, authorities realised that they needed to organise to deal with the plague or else face even higher death rates.

The use of the – quarantine – system became a major way of dealing with highly communicable diseases where no medical intervention was available and/or effective.

I read an interesting historical paper the other day to learn more about the way they organised.

The reference is : Mafart, B. and Perret, J.L. (1998) ‘History of the concept of quarantine’, Médecine tropicale. 58, 14-20.

The article is in French but details how authorities worked out that the plague was spread by shipping – sailors, cargo and rats sneaking aboard ships in ports.

It began in Italy (Sicily) and was brought there by ships from the eastern Mediterranean.

It soon spread throughout Italy (the city-states of Florence, Venice and Genoa) and moved to France and Spain as ships moved between the respective ports.

It then headed into Austria and central Europe and west to Britain etc.

There was no effective medicinal defense.

The authorities worked out that the only way to avoid the infection was to isolate people and the objects they had come into contact with.

There were all sorts of restrictions introduced – entry through the walls around the city states were closed to outsiders enforced by armed guards and isolation camps were created to ensure the infected remained separate.

It was pretty unsophisticated to say the least and brutally enforced.

In 1377, the Southern Croatian city of Dubrovnik, refined this approach and created the first quarantine stations while Venice created the first – Lazaretto – in 1423 (at Santa Maria di Nazareth). This was a quarantine station for seafarers.

The quarantine idea soon spread and was seen as a way of isolating all sorts of maladies (leprosy etc).

The lazarettos accommodated all sorts of travellers and sick people.

There is no doubt that the quarantine system aided the containment of infections, which delayed the spread of infections and reduced deaths.

Over the course of history, that effectiveness has been met with challenges based on individual liberty claims and all of that.

Some critics also focused on the socially biased impact of these systems – given that segregation methods tended to impact most on healthy persons from low income groups and minority groups in general.

The rich could always find a way around the system.

There were also quarantine ‘jumpers’ who defied the authorities and escaped the constraints – which spread the infection more widely.

These restrictive systems have always been opposed by have saved tens of thousands of lives.

I was interested in learning more about that history given the current situation in the world – and Australia in particular.

Covid infection is now rising quickly in Australia.

On average there are around 60 people dying each day and that number is also rising each week.

Sure enough, most people who become ill with the virus overcome it relatively quickly, although the verdict is still out on the longer-terms problems that these infections may promote.

But enough people are becoming very sick such that they have to be admitted to hospitals.

The health authorities are now telling us that our hospitals are full and hard choices are being made which means that other illnesses cannot be treated as before.

I read today in this article – Data reveals the ‘unseen tragedy’ of COVID-19 pandemic as thousands wait longer for elective surgery – that common treatments and interventions that relieve suffering are now being delayed for significant periods of time because the hospitals are full of people sick with Covid.

It is also projected the Covid will become the largest cause of death in Australia this year surpassing heart disease and cancer (Source).

An infectious disease has not achieved that status since the early C20th.

So with a new wave about to hit we are hearing all this claptrap that masks and isolation do not work.

The State and Federal governments have been bullied by the so-called ‘freedom lobby’ to abandon most (nearly all) restrictions that kept our infection rate and death rate low.

They are too scared to even call for a return to mask mandate and most people are not wearing them any longer.

The Prime Minister today said people should wear masks in certain settings but the government would not require it.

Which is a massive cop out.

If he thinks they should wear them, then by not requiring that he is openly acknowledging the government is willing to tolerate the rising death toll.

And the infections are going through the roof.

We cannot stop the virus now that is clear.

But we can significantly reduce the infection spread by simple technologies such as proper masks.

The evidence is pretty clear.

They are effective and as we get more data, the research evidence (not the Twitter noise) is confirming that.

One relatively recent survey of the literature – How effective is a mask in preventing COVID‐19 infection? (published in Medical Devices and Sensors, February 2021).

The evidence base and research tells us that:

1. “Air filtering respirators such as N95 masks can filtrate contaminants, bacteria and other matters from reaching nose and mouth.”

2. “Some of the self-made masks were tested and found quite effective although to a lesser degree compared to the surgi- cal and N95 masks”

3. “requiring people who have direct contact with patients to wear surgical masks can considerably reduce respiratory virus infection.”

4. “using masks in a community can prevent spread of infection from sick and infectious people”.

5. “wearing mask in public is essential as its effectiveness has already been well established by the current studies.”

6. “Based on these studies, all people, regardless of physical conditions and professions, should wear masks at all times in prevention of COVID-19.”

7. “based on the current studies: correctly wearing masks of all kinds, despite their different designs, functions and effectiveness, will to a large degree reduce the overall risks of COVID-19 infection and enhance general protection from coronavirus.”

Another recent study – The need for more robust research on the effectiveness of masks in preventing COVID-19 transmission – published April 19, 2022 in Future Virology, 17(7), 491-494 – tells us that while more research is needed:

From the published studies, one preliminary conclusion is that medical masks may help in preventing respiratory virus infection

Another relatively recent study – Surgical masks reduce COVID-19 spread, large-scale study shows (September 1, 2021) – reports on research from Yale and Stanford universities which finds that:

… wearing a surgical face mask over the mouth and nose is an effective way to reduce the occurrence of COVID-19 in community settings.

I could cite many research articles that come to a similar conclusion.

Cloth masks etc are not conclusively good and wearing proper fitting masks is essential.

I use a – Flo Mask – which I purchased from the USA and which is very sound (the silicone seal takes a little getting used to).

Given that wearing a mask is a minor inconvenience and much less annoying than having to stop at red lights or obey speed limits I am amazed that we have seen them as symbols of oppression.

They protect me and others around me when I am wearing them.

I see that as an essential part of being a community citizen – looking other others while I also take care of myself.

And to the freedom lobby – by refusing to wear masks and stay clear of me you are compromising my freedom.

And I wonder whether members of this group and those on Twitter that are continually crowing that these restrictions do not reduce the burden of disease stop at red lights!

Go on, get on Twitter and rave on about oppression.

Sustainable urban development

I mentioned in my blog post on Monday – The global poly crisis is the culmination of the absurdity of neoliberalism (July 18, 2022) – that instead of governments via central banks and fiscal cut backs creating unemployment in the face of the poly crisis that the globe is facing, that, among other things, tightening regulations of house construction to reduce carbon use would be a good start.

A commentator said, in relation to this that:

Curious, I would say we need more housebuilding to increase housing supply and reduce housing costs. And reduce the power of Landlord over tenants.

Which means my communication was poor.

I have previously mentioned a housing development that I am part of in Victoria in these blog posts:

1. The RBA has lost the plot – monetary policy is now incomprehensible in Australia (July 6, 2022).

2. Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design and the silence of our political parties (May 16, 2022).

It is interesting that this development project, once considered radical, is now gone mainstream as evidenced by the article in the UK Guardian on Monday (July 18, 2022) – ‘Stripped back’: how a cattle farm became a sustainable coastal community – which provides readers with some of the history of the development and its features.

As you will read – The Cape – has the potential to become the ‘standard in housing crisis solutions’.

It is a magnificient project and the houses that are going up are all low energy and very sophisticated in technology. Most of the houses that are already built have negative energy bills given the amount of solar they generate.

There is a community farm that will guarantee us (organic) food security into the future and all sorts of other innovations adjacent to some of the best surfing beaches on the south coast.

The point I was making in my Monday blog post was that the housing standards at The Cape are very high by relative standards in terms of energy rating.

Most developments in Australia only have to pass scrutiny to 6 stars (which means they are not very energy efficient at all).

The current standards allow developers to move out on the fringe of the cities and build estates which have no trees and when viewed from above are endless kms of roofs and concrete.

The earth cannot absorb rainfall properly and the surfaces become heat sinks, which further strain energy use because all the houses have to use air conditioners.

It is a shocking indictment of the way the regulative authorities have been captured by the greed of the property developers.

And it is a significant aspect of the policy crisis.

My proposal is simple.

1. All new housing should be required to meet the sort of standards that are required to build at The Cape – high energy rating standards preferably 10-stars.

2. Clearly, achieving that sort of energy efficiency increases the cost of construction – double glazing, insulation, thermal mass components, well-thought out design, solar, batteries, etc. It is clearly more expensive.

3. On equity grounds, such a regulation would be punitive for lower (and even middle-) income families.

4. So while the regulative framework should enforce a 10-star rating, the national government should step in and fund the difference between the construction costs of a current 6-star dwelling and what would be required to build only 10-star housing.

5. The policy would address the terrible negative externalities arising from those poorly conceived housing estates, reduce the carbon intensity of our housing stock to very low if not negative levels over the life of the buildings, and allow all income cohorts to enjoy the low lifetime cost of running these types of houses.

That is what I meant.

It allows for an expansion of housing to meet the affordability crisis – which is equitable.

But it also meets the climate challenges we face.

And the federal government has all the funds it needs to provide the gap subsidy to home builders.


Music – Ben Webster

This is what I have been listening to while working this morning.

Ben Webster – died young but he was one of the great tenor players of his time.

This New Yorker article (August 12, 2001) – Big Ben – describes his playing as “unique and magisterial”, which is a pretty accurate summation of what he brought to the instrument, particularly his ballad playing.

You can hear it in this song – a Duke Ellington song composed in 1934 and was recorded by Ben Webster in London in January 1957.

This version came out on the album – Big Ben Time – which is one of those less known records that any tenor afficionados should listen to.

His tone is exquisite while his life was sad.

His band on this recording was:

1. Ben Webster – tenor sax.

2. Dick Katz – piano.

3. Spike Heatley – double bass.

4. Tony Crombie – drums.

5. Alan Haven – organ.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2022 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Not cycling on public roads is a simple way to protect oneself and those around us. It is hardly a symbol of authoritarianism and conspiracy to destroy our freedom. I see it as basically a civic responsibility.

    Bill you and I know full well that many road cyclists end up in accidents and a smaller number even injure pedestrians or their presence on the roads is implicated in accidents and yet this practice is allowed to continue? Indeed, in terms of the proportion of cyclists that are on the roads I would say they are responsible for more carnage (severe injury) than a comparable number of non wearers of masks. I am not advocating for banning cyclists from roads nor am I advocating for compulsory mask wearing though I am think in both cases education, assistance, evidence based practice and good sense is necessary.

  2. Living in Ben’s old stomping grounds the accolades all go to the whipper snapper that succeeded him. Whom to me, noodled around too much. I’ll look for that album.

  3. Covid has become endemic, it’s being lumped in with colds, flu’s etc as a class of illness and treated accordingly. There had been initial optimism due to the vaccines being quite effective at preventing symptomatic illness, but viral evolution has dampened that significantly.
    At first the virus evolved to become extremely transmissible, and then it evolved the ability to do end runs around our immune defenses including the adaptive systems which develop following infection or vaccination.

    A person can become vulnerable to re-infection in just a few weeks after recovering from prior infection with the same virus and some people have been infected 3 or more times with BA.5 already.
    Each infection brings the risk of developing long covid, so the potential for devastating long term economic consequences, both personal and for society is large.

    So, have to agree here that mask mandates, and enforced social distancing are reasonable, because unfortunately many people refuse to self isolate when experiencing symptoms for a variety of reasons. Without the ability to identify and quarantine a large portion of infected people, as was possible during the pandemic phase, this is all that’s left for the foreseeable future. At least until a more universal vaccine can be developed or effective medicines for preventing severe illness can be found.
    Any mask is better than no mask. The virus travels in an aerosol, and this makes it vulnerable to capture by materials porous enough to let a virus on it’s own pass through, including the N-95. Viral load has great significance to the probability of becoming infected and the severity of infection if it does happen, so I’m not going to criticize anyone for wearing a well designed reusable cloth mask around me. That may be all they can afford or obtain. The important thing is everyone wearing a mask in situations that warrant them.

  4. On housing: the difference in construction costs might not be all that big. In various countries in Europe, meeting “Passive house” standards tends to cost only around 5% more than just meeting the country’s legal minimum standard, because the house needs only a smaller cheaper system for heating/cooling. See the Wikipedia article “Passive house” (and perhaps also “Solar air conditioning”).

    Admittedly, that’s not the same as a ten-star rating in Australia’s NatHERS: the “Passive house” standard says the energy used for heating and cooling must be no more than 15kWh/year (54MJ/year) based on the climate and conditions where the house is built. The corresponding number for each NatHERS band depends on the location, in ways which vary wildly from place to place. Going from six stars to ten means lowering the annual energy use

    from 90 to 24 MJ/year in Rockhampton

    from 285 to 99 MJ/year in Broome

    from 298 to 1 MJ/year in Thredbo!

    As for the equity position, might it be quite good? I would expect the better-built house to have a lower total cost of ownership over the length of a typical mortgage, since the heating/cooling bills will be smaller.

    The house will be worth more because it is cheaper to run and more comfortable inside.

  5. Endemic does not mean what many seem to think it means. It means that the rate of infection within the nation is stable and predictable, and doesn’t see waves of infection emerging from within the country, or brought in externally from elsewhere.

    We are all still in the pandemic phase, seeing repeated waves, from imported, or home-grown variants. B.2.75 likely to be next up.

    This could continue for years to come.

    Besides which, wrt Covid, endemicity is not a good thing. The long-term sequelae will become an increasing burden on public health, health services, other public services and the economy in general.

    There is evidence of serious post-infection damage to the immune system, esp to naive T-cells, as well as long term damage to cardiovascular and neurological systems, with each wave seeing increasing attrition.

    It has also been suggested that the “flu” symptoms seen on acute infection could be just a manifestation of the process of sero-conversion, with the actual disease caused by SARS-Cov-2 being ‘Long Covid’ itself – similar to the HIV>AIDS progression. Time will tell.

    Pandemic, or endemic; Covid remains a severe threat; it beggars belief that so many governments, organisations, and individuals are not taking it as seriously as they should.

    Homemade and surgical masks are really not very effective at preventing infection from aerosols, which is how we now know SARS-Cov-2 is transmitted.

    Minimum FFP2/N95, or, even better, FFP3/N99 is indicated. The Flo-Mask sounds good, but is quite expensive, esp at the “pro” level.

    An optimum solution I have found to be effective is to use 7x (or more?) disposable FFP3/N99 masks, with head straps, safely bagged for a few days after use, and worn in turn over a week. They can last this way for weeks or months until visibly damaged. They do not solely depend on a ‘seive’ effect in their 5-layer structure to prevent viral transmission, but also have an electrostatic layer which foils transmission too.

    Stay safe, and avoid initial or repeat infection if you possibly can.

  6. @Bruce I assume your writing about dangerous road cyclists is a little in-joke, even if you’re writing about an Australia with fabulous cycle lanes.
    Bill, absolutely right. Australia appears to be running with roughly England levels of covid. The current reported figures for England are, within the last 7 days, 908 deaths and 12038 hospital admissions testing covid positive.
    Re: ‘wearing a mask is a minor inconvenience and much less annoying than having to stop at red lights or obey speed limits’. Reporting from the UK, I observe that drivers do generally stop at red lights but obeying speed limits, let alone regulating cars to ensure compatability with our narrow and broken road infrastructure and a desire to protect our environment, would need a change of mindset and not without a huge outcry from the petrolheads who are hastening our planetary disaster.

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