The #BLM protesters can teach Australians about COVID-19 safety

Mask use was high, making COVID-19 transmission risk low

There's been a lot of outrage about attending a protest during an epidemic. While it is tempting to simply point out that shopping centres, parks and beaches were similarly packed on that day, there is something that the #BlackLivesMatter protesters did better than average Australians.

They overwhelmingly wore masks.

You should too, because they work, and could help us eliminate COVID-19. 

A person who is unknowingly sick who wears a mask will drastically reduce the amount of droplets and hence virus they put into the air around them. Likewise, a healthy person who wears a mask prevents a substantial amount of those droplets both landing on their mouth and also being inhaled into their airway. 

For months the Australian government and Chief Medical Officers (in particular, Deputy CMO Prof Paul Kelly) falsely claimed that there wasn't evidence that masks were effective and that they may increase infections (a claim made without scientific basis). 

They discouraged mask use when it could have stopped the epidemic early, with Brendan Murphy saying "I’m saying to people in Australia: don’t wear masks, go about your normal business."

The reality is that there has been substantial evidence for months, if not years, that even basic masks are effective in preventing respiratory illness. A study from China in 2004 showed that people who always worse masks had a 70% reduced risk of infection from SARS. This is just one of a large number of studies that show that masks are effective, as long as people wear the mask routinely and follow other hygiene procedures like hand washing.  

The hypocrisy of the situation is further compounded by their demand that we should leave the masks for the nurses and doctors on the front line. It is quite possible that an agenda to compensate for failing supply lines was at play more than the scientific evidence. 

And while previous results were not about COVID-19 specifically, new results have proven what could be easily inferred. The argument has been put to rest, with COVID-19 specific infections. Mask use at-home reduces transmission from an infected family member to an uninfected family member by 79%.

Unfortunately, the Australian government's "National Cabinet" has a again ruled out recommending, let alone requiring, mask use in crowded areas like public transport. That's despite a change of opinion from the Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy

We are backwards in this country when it comes to our position on mask use. All over the world, from Asia to North America to Europe, mask use has been mandated when social distancing cannot be maintained. Even the World Health Organisation supports mask use today.

The people in the #BlackLivesMatter protests were well aware of the risk associated with protesting, so they covered up to protect themselves and protect the community. They are doing their best to protect society from the spread of disease, and protecting Australia's first people from further violence from the police and corrections system.

Australia needs to get with the times to eliminate COVID-19. It's time you wore a mask like the #BlackLivesMatter protesters.

James Jansson has PhD from UNSW, where he used mathematical modelling to study the outcomes of the HIV epidemic. 

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