US president-elect Joe Biden has pledged to push for scientific measures against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping that all Americans develop a habit of wearing masks. His push has become a hot topic in the US.
However, the Republican governors of 16 states threaten to boycott a mandatory mask policy, saying that whether to wear a mask is a personal choice, and people should not be forced to do so even during a pandemic.
Some of the governors emphasized that whether to wear a mask is a matter of personal freedom and cannot be a legal obligation. As some Americans stretch the understanding of “freedom” infinitely, no wonder the pandemic situation in the US continues to worsen.
What is freedom? English sociologist Herbert Spencer in the 19th century defined it, saying: “Every man is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.”
Our schools also teach us that freedom is based on the premise of not infringing upon that of others.
However, the definition of freedom is not the point. What should be denounced is when people, in the name of upholding freedom, pose risks to others.
You do not need to be very knowledgeable or have studied the US constitution to know this simple “code of conduct,” which is comprehensible with a little empathy that was learned in elementary school: While the pandemic is out of control in the US, those who are unwilling to wear masks are obviously misjudging the nature of freedom.
As Asians, it might be difficult for us to comprehend the thoughts of some Europeans and Americans.
However, in our globalized world, perhaps Europeans and Americans can take a look at the preventive measures Asian countries have taken.
Studies have shown that COVID-19 is different from other coronaviruses, as its genetic code allows it to deceive our immune system, tricking our bodies into lowering its virus protection.
Also, as the viral load in a person who has contracted COVID-19 is typically highest two days before symptoms occur; many people spread the virus before knowing they are infected.
Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Medical Science, conducted experimental research on the level of protection that masks grant. The results showed that masks might reduce the amount of droplets emitted by a person by 70 percent.
It further showed that masks might reduce the amount of droplets inhaled by a person by 47 percent in case of a surgical mask or 17 percent in case of a non-surgical mask made of cotton.
A N95 mask might reduce the amount of droplets by 79 percent.
However, the study showed that even if two people engaged in a conversation wear masks, it does not completely eliminate the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Even though the experiments were conducted in a confined space of a laboratory and the protection that mask grant might not be as high as the numbers suggest, wearing a mask effectively slows the spread of COVID-19.
Still, people must not solely rely on masks, as they do not provide full protection.
Americans can access information freely and easily, so one would hope that when some people sing the praises of freedom, they can also learn how to approach COVID-19 and their compatriots with empathy.
Wu Yueh-hua is an associate professor at National Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism’s applied Japanese department.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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