Moral hazard and masks.

As we all know wearing a mask is important — it just is. When we wear our N95 respirators, they protect against us both spreading, and receiving, the coronavirus. This is the fundamental reason that so many grocery stores, retailers, and just about every medical office require you to wear some sort of mask or protection. Oftentimes, masks are used to ensure that infected people don’t spread the virus, as we are unsure about the exact manner in which the virus spreads (meaning that we aren’t sure for exactly how long the virus can survive in air, how far it can spread, or the exact methods by which it is capable of entering our bodies). However, there is a danger that comes with wearing a mask, in the form of moral hazard. 

Moral hazard is the idea that protection increases somebodies likelihood to engage in risky behavior. This can be seen throughout our modern world, especially. One popular example is that concussions in the NFL have actually risen because of modern protective equipment. Pads have been shown to make players feel more invincible (which they most certainly are not) and engage in riskier / more aggressive behavior. When football players wore no head protection, or leather caps, they wouldn’t lead their tackles with their head. Feeling as though they have a firm layer of protection lulls players into a false sense of confidence that they can hit as hard as they want without being injured. Similarly, seatbelts may trick new drivers into believing accidents aren’t severe, or that they will be protected, causing drivers to act more aggressively. The more protection one perceives the more likely someone is to engage in riskier behavior.

But how does this play into wearing a mask? When you wear a mask it may make you feel invincible. It may convince you that you can neither transmit, nor receive, coronavirus. This, however, is wrong. Masks are a fantastic component of defense, but do not work alone. When you wear a mask to a store, or anywhere in particular, if social distance guidelines aren’t observed, hands aren’t washed, and people do not engage in general sanitary behavior, the virus can still spread. It is extremely important to be aware of the fact that while your mask is the strongest defense against COVID, alone it will fail. Everyone must take all the other precautions outlined by the CDC, WHO, and every other governing public health agency. 

There is no one-stop-shop way to prevent the spread of COVID. What we have learned from this pandemic, is that we must hold each other and ourselves accountable for our collective health. Unity and togetherness are the only way that the virus will slow. When social distancing guidelines went into effect and people adhered to them, cases plummeted. Now, as guidelines ease and frustration over isolation continues to grow, so do cases. It is simple math. To neglect the other pieces of the COVID war being waged right now is to lose. 

When you see a friend or someone in public breaking the guidelines, we must not be silent. To be silent is to allow the vulnerable members of our society to suffer and die. Donating protective equipment is a great way to help homeless communities and those unable to afford PPE a way to help stop the spread. If you need a selfish reason, remember that this truly is a team effort. If we do not protect everyone in our country, the virus will resurge. Donating a mask or supplies is truly as much about protecting others as it is about protecting yourself. 

It is tough to stay inside all day without seeing an end in the future. It really really is. We are all going through it. But, if we don’t wear our masks, gloves, and sanitize, this will only last longer. We as a people are completely in control of how this virus spreads. Unfortunately, it only takes a few people who break the norm of distancing, who don’t wear N95 or KN95 masks, to undo this work. The sad truth is there are people  who do not care about the health and well being of others, which makes the job harder for all of us. Those people are why we have to keep our distance, even when we don’t feel  sick. Those people are why we wear long clothing and have to avoid all contact. 

Whenever you lose hope remember that wearing a mask is saving someone's life. It really really really is. Everytime you don a face cover you are acting as a hero in your own right. It is the duty of the strong to defend the weak, even when that job seems like an impossible undertaking. 

This is not the first, nor the last, time that disease will sweep the world. As animals and humans continue to enter into closer contact, more viruses will spread. The way we act today will set the precedent for hundreds of years to come. We must not be remembered as the people who failed because, “staying six feet apart was too hard.” Humankind must unite under the same shield of saving lives, and we must not forget that it is not enough just to engage with one piece of public health guidelines. We must observe all of the guidelines or we will fail in this endeavour. Coronavirus can become a thing of the past, but not if we don’t work together to eradicate it. If we fail the consequence will be generations of terror from something we could have stopped.

So slip on some gloves, slop on some hand-sanitizer, and slap on a mask. Lives depend on it.

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