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In our opinion: Read the clearest research yet on the benefits of wearing a mask

SHARE In our opinion: Read the clearest research yet on the benefits of wearing a mask
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Pearl Boatright, Salt Lake County fiscal coordinator, and Linda Broussard, Salt Lake County Library senior human resources coordinator, organize face mask kits at the Viridian Library in West Jordan on Tuesday, July 7, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

It seems fitting that as Utah commemorates Brigham Young’s arrival to the Salt Lake Valley this week, a team of researchers at his namesake university are helping to clear the path forward out of a new crisis.

Brigham Young University associate professor Ben Abbott and a group of student researchers released a report on masks and COVID-19 on Monday, confirming an unnecessarily controversial point of public discussion: Masks are effective, and they are an essential tool in curbing the disease’s spread. Medical professionals have been saying the same for several months now, albeit having reversed course from earlier proclamations. Abbott and his team upheld their statements with extensive evidence.

The BYU group analyzed some 115 scientific studies about the current pandemic, coming to the conclusion that “cloth masks can stop 90% or more of the dispersal of droplets carrying the virus” and that they “are highly safe” for users — debunking some of the more common mask-wearing myths. 

Their conclusions come at a pivotal point in the state’s fight against COVID-19. Many school districts statewide are a little more than a month removed from the start of the school year, and if Utahns have any hope of a safe environment for students and teachers come fall, changes need to be made now. Fortunately, the state is beginning to see results of the mask mandate in Salt Lake County. Although masks may not be the independent cause of reduction of cases there, Abbott and his colleagues admit the county’s progress is solid “anecdotal evidence that masking may be working.”

Health benefits aside, the economic potential of widespread mask usage should be motivation enough. Economist Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, told the Deseret News on Monday that “the closest thing we have as a substitute for shutting down the economy is to wear masks.” The BYU researchers concur, citing a popular Goldman Sachs brief that claims Americans wearing masks could be a trillion-dollar investment in our economy.

It is inspiring to read a clear, good-willed breakdown of one of the most controversial issues this pandemic has brought. “Scientific evidence can be difficult to interpret under the best of circumstances,” the researchers write. And while misinformation and confusion are only compounded by the urgency of a global pandemic, so is the need for reliable, accessible evidence — the why of what Utahns are asked to do.

Without a statewide mask mandate, residents will respond to the compelling research as they see fit. We hope they can cut through the emotions of the moment and make pragmatic choices on behalf of their neighbors and friends.

There is no better time than today for Utahns to stand together in principle and lift the state out of its pandemic trend. In anticipation of this weekend’s pioneer celebrations, Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson commented, “Pioneers never wait for government mandates or rely on Washington to tackle tough problems. Pioneers act where they are able and measure the best of their energies and skills by their ability to unite around a common cause.

“Utah pioneers felt a responsibility toward those they traveled with and those who would come after. Because of that mindset there was a spirit of cooperation instead of criticism and shared responsibility instead of selfishness.”

That pioneer spirit must live on today. Cooperation must overpower criticism as all Utahns fight together in this common cause.