Date:October 29, 2020

To Mask Or Not To Mask: Scientist Demonstrates Its Effects

Face mask use by the general public for limiting the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is controversial, though increasingly recommended, and the potential of this intervention is not well understood.

The debate of whether to wear a mask continues as more states see a surge in Coronavirus infections. A new experiment done by researcher Rich Davis shows how important it is to wear a mask using agar cultures.

Davis tweeted that he had sung, sneezed, talked, and coughed into a petri dish with, and without a mask, he shared a picture and it was downright scary.

Davis set up several Petri dishes that showed the number of bacteria spread with and without a mask when a sneeze, conversation, singing a song, or cough happened. He then did the experiment again at a distance.

[A Petri dish (alternatively known as a Petri plate or cell-culture dish) is a shallow transparent lidded dish, which biologists use to culture cells, such as bacteria, fungi, or small mosses.  It is the most common type of culture plate.]

The number of bacteria represented in the Petri dishes with no mask was enormous compared to the dishes with a mask, hence the need for a mask is necessary. Davis’ experiment was retweeted over 166,000 times and was “liked” over 280,000 times.

Rich Davis demonstrated just how big of a difference wearing a mask makes

Rich Davis’ demonstration, Ph.D., Director of the microbiology lab at Providence Health Care, found a mask was effective at blocking most respiratory droplets, a vehicle researchers believe helps spread COVID-19.

On Twitter, Davis acknowledged that “bacteria are incredibly different from viruses,” but used the bacteria culture plates in the demonstration to show where respiratory droplets go. “Since we expect respiratory droplets to be what primarily spreads COVID-19, I exploit the presence of (easily to grow and visualize) bacteria in respiratory droplets, to show where they go.”

He then showed what effect keeping your distance has

He repeated that masks are important to slowing the spread of the coronavirus

“The reality is, that if [masks are] somewhat effective on a lot of people, that means there is a lot of people who don’t get the virus, and that’s why we really think this is the best public health tool until we do have a vaccine until we have a good treatment, this is what we’ve got,” said Dr. Wesley Willeford, Jefferson County Department of Health.

“Several studies have come out from multiple journals around the world where you see the use of masks does slow this virus down and make it harder to spread.”

One study, conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, estimates wearing masks can reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by 50%.

Somebody even summarized his little experiment in a video

Rich’s demonstration got a lot of attention

Rich said that he enjoyed talking to people about his demonstration

Image credits: richdavisphd

Rich is the director of the clinical microbiology laboratory at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington. His informative and to-the-point post got a lot of attention online. He got over 280.4k likes, his post was retweeted more than 166k times, and someone even made a video summary of his experiment! It’s a good thing Rich’s post was seen by so many people, considering that the coronavirus has made a resurgence in some places.

The situation isn’t as optimistic as we’d like it to be. The number of people who died with Covid-19 has surpassed half a million, globally. What’s more, since the coronavirus outbreak started, there have been over 10 million cases of infected.

The number of cases is rising in 30 US states, the BBC reports. While more than 400k people are under a new lockdown in the Chinese province of Hebei. It’s a confusing time because while some countries are seeing the number of cases go up, other places are further relaxing restrictions. For example, more and more businesses are reopening in Scotland, students are returning to schools in Wales after a 3-month break.

Here’s how some people reacted to Rich’s Twitter thread

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Image credits: PattyArquette