Masks save lives and can help us safely reopen our communities

Despite all the political controversy about whether masks should be required or not, the science is clear: Face coverings tamp down the spread of COVID-19.

They provide a barrier that helps contain the airborne droplets that are emitted when we exhale—effectively curbing one of the primary ways that the virus spreads.

Given that roughly 40 percent of new infections come from people who don’t show symptoms—and may be unaware that they are carriers—the widespread adoption of face coverings is one of the most effective ways for communities to slow the spread of the virus.

But here’s the thing: Masks won’t make a big dent in new infections until the vast majority of us wear them.

“It takes 80-90 percent of the population to mask up in order to make any significant difference in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said computer science and engineering professor De Kai at Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute.

An expert in artificial intelligence, De Kai created a computer simulation that models the spread of COVID-19 when different percentages of the population wear face coverings.

His research found that even when half the population regularly wears masks, the number of new infections continues to rise. You need nearly the whole community to wear masks for them to effectively slow the spread of the virus.

“This is counterintuitive because unconsciously, as humans, we tend to assume linear behaviors. But it turns out that if only 50 percent of folks are wearing masks, we do not cut infections in…

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