A California health official got so many threats after she ordered residents to wear masks that she resigned. Research shows she was right.
Protesters gather during the "March to Open California" on May 1st, 2020 in Huntington Beach, California.
Paul Bersebach / MediaNews Group / Orange County Register / Getty Images
Orange County's former chief health officer resigned after receiving threats that residents must wear face masks in public.
A few days later, the Orange County district manager said masks were "highly recommended" rather than required.
However, there are indications that wearing masks reduces the transmission of coronaviruses and prevents deaths.
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One of the richest counties in California has become a microcosm of the nation's split response to the corona virus.
On Monday, the former Orange County health advisor, Dr. Nichole Quick, back after receiving threats that residents must wear face masks that are only a meter away from others in public. Quick is the seventh senior health official in California to resign during the pandemic.
In the days leading up to her resignation, she was the target of an increasing public backlash.
Kat DeBurgh, executive director of the Health Officers Association of California, told Business Insider that a group of protesters recently brought a banner depicting Quick as a Nazi to a public meeting of the board. Residents also read Quick's home address during a meeting, DeBurgh said, threatening to protest outside their home.
In response, the Orange County Quick sheriff department provided a security detail. Quick did not respond to a request for comment.
"I have worked with Dr. Quick for many years and cannot say enough good things about her as a person and a professional," said DeBurgh. "She is optimistic, intelligent, hard-working and compassionate. This type of attack is heartbreaking and counterproductive when it comes to fighting our common enemy COVID-19."
Quick issued the mask request on May 23 as the number of hospitalizations in Orange County tended to increase. On the same day, the county began to relax restrictions on staying at home by providing seating in restaurants and reopening some indoor retailers. Daily coronavirus cases in Orange County fluctuated, but on June 5, the county had the highest number of one-day cases, with more than 290 cases. To date, around 7,700 cases and almost 150 deaths have been reported.
A nationwide backlash against mask requirements
Protesters gather to reopen California on May 16, 2020 in Woodland Hills, California.
David McNew / Getty Images
In April, hundreds of people gathered in Orange County to demonstrate for an end to the California order at home. Many waved American flags and held signs demanding freedom.
Other demonstrators across the country have also opposed the obligation to wear masks in public.
On May 1st, the day San Diego introduced its mask requirement, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside a local courthouse without a face mask. The same day, a security guard was shot and killed in Flint, Michigan after asking a customer from the dollar business to wear a face mask. Later in the month, a man was filmed in Portland, Oregon, when he yelled at a grocer who asked him to wear a mask in it.
DeBurgh said Orange County health officials have worked "tirelessly" to protect their communities from COVID-19. Her weeks are often 80 hours long, she said, and many have had no days off since February. At the same time, officers like Quick had been struggling with a "mob mentality" that turned into personal attacks.
"Public comments are an important part of policy making, but personal attacks do not benefit anyone and do not lead to the best political decisions," said DeBurgh.
Three days after Quick's resignation, district manager Lisa Bartlett announced that a new arrangement should ease mask requirements. Masks are now only "highly recommended" in Orange County - although they may still be mandatory in grocery and other retail stores.
However, there is evidence that the requirement for masks is an effective way to protect public health.
Face masks prevent transmission
Some people wear masks on April 25, 2020 in Huntington Beach, California, others do not.
Apu Gomes / AFP / Getty Images
Quick's mask requirement complies with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control, according to which people over 2 years of age wear face covers in environments where it is difficult to maintain social distance. Other California counties, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, have imposed a similar mandate.
A new study by British researchers found that the need to wear face masks all the time can be enough to contain a breakout without blocking - even if the masks only trap 50% infectious particles when a person exhales.
"These results are remarkable in that the benefits benefit both the face mask wearer and the general population," the researchers wrote. "So there is a clear incentive for people to wear face masks."
The researchers found that face masks can reduce transmission, even if only 25% of the population wears it, if not much. However, if half of the population wore them, the study could slow (but not prevent) an outbreak. The more people wore face masks, the closer a community could get to their outbreak.
This is consistent with research by Arizona State University that "widespread use of even relatively ineffective face masks can significantly reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by the community".
The university's models showed that an almost universal introduction of face masks in the state of New York could prevent up to 45% of projected deaths within two months - even if face masks are only 50% effective. In Washington State, face masks that were only 20% effective but were worn by the majority of the population could reduce mortality rates by up to 65%, the researchers found.
Nevertheless, there are some disagreements among public health experts about whether masks should be a requirement for the general public. When Business Insider recently asked 15 leading public health experts, 11 said that masks should be worn, three were unsure, and one said no. Robert Beardall, the only one who voted against, said his response was due to concerns that homemade masks would give a false sense of protection and cause people to get too close.
As Dr. Quick issued the Orange County mask requirement, citing evidence that face coverings "can help prevent COVID-19 transmission".
"I firmly believe that if we keep sending people into more social interactions, we need a face-to-face order," said Quick.
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