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Anti-maskers: Their Freedom is Costing Us More Than Our Lives

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Anti-masker protestors on palm tree lined streetFreedom is a non-partisan principle beloved by all Americans. We love our freedom to speak, protest, argue about different views, worship any God we want, and choose who to love. Our freedoms are ingrained in the Constitution. For anti-maskers, freedom means the choice not to wear a mask and the ability to breathe air without having to breathe through a hospital mask.

The Constitution does not say, though, that we can do anything we damn well please. Our rights to individual choice and expression have always been tempered by the understanding that no harm should be caused to others. The rights of individuals have to be weighed against the rights of others in the society. There is a real cost to anti-mask freedom fighters’ obsessions with their personal freedom.

Americans typically understand the no-harm rule. Generally, we won’t protest if we get fined for defecating on our neighbor’s yard. We don’t have the liberty to spit on another table’s meal at a restaurant. It is a sure way to find oneself banned from eating there again. In urban centers, we allow people to have dogs, but we expect the owners to pick up the poop. Piss on a passerby at a public place and you might see the inside of a cell.

Talk to anyone and they’ll say it’s common sense. So, why are so many people defending the choice to be an anti-masker and spray a public place with mucus droplets potentially laden with a pandemic-causing virus?

Something sinister has been happening in American society. Our ideals have been subverted. Too often the word freedom now refers to unbridled individual choice, fuck the others. We want our AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. So what if shootings that involved semi-automatic rifles have nearly double the number of injuries and deaths per shooting as other guns. We don’t want to wear helmets on our motorbikes. So what if an accident happens and the extra $3000 of hospital bills over the price tag of what it would have been if we had worn helmets are passed onto the insurance company and the government? We want our cars and carbon-intensive lifestyles. So what if we damn the future with temperature increases? We don’t find masks comfortable and take them off. So what if the pandemic continues its resurgence in America? Fuck the vulnerable. We’re healthy.

Protest Sign "It's not about a virus!! #firstamendment outofshadows.org"

Our selfish adherence for personal freedom at the expense of others has costs. Now in the pandemic, with Covid-19 cases continuing their resurgence, more than anything, everyone wants life to go back to a semblance of normalcy, and certainly, our fellow anti-maskers also want to return to normal. But their actions are making it come so much slower.

There is simple science to this consequence. To stop the spread of Covid-19 from continuing its surge across the United States, each person infected with the virus needs to infect fewer than one other person. The number of people that each person infects has been defined as the real time reproduction number, RT. In other words, the rate at which the coronavirus is infecting people. If the RT is less than one, the pandemic will eventually die out. A number more than one will result in an increase in the number of people infected. The RT live website shows the current and historical reproduction numbers for all the states. At the time of writing 31 states had an RT above one. The number of infected in each of the 31 states is likely increasing each day.

The purpose of wearing masks is not to prevent ourselves from being infected but to prevent others from being infected by us. The cloth masks and surgical masks that we wear decrease the size and velocity of the mucus droplets traveling from our mouths when exhaling, coughing, or talking. It is estimated that if 80% of people wear masks when they leave their homes, the reproduction rate will comfortably be lower than one, and thus, eventually quell the pandemic. It should be that simple.

We just have to get 80% compliance and we’ll be done with this pandemic. Europe has almost finished with the first wave. Thailand hasn’t had community spread for two months. China, Korea, and Japan are safe though they have the occasional outbreak as they reopen. But it isn’t that simple. On June 19, most people in the U.S. self-reported wearing masks less than 40% of the time when going out. Unless this changes, we may never control it.

Perhaps anti-maskers don’t actually care about ending the pandemic. Whether it is because they are young and healthy or because they believe that the seriousness of Covid-19’s symptoms is overblown, they just don’t seem to care. There is also an active movement pushing the herd-immunity narrative. Some of these anti-maskers ignore the authorities and the science and cheer on the virus in its indiscriminate spread across the country. This isn’t just selfishness. They’re playing for the wrong team.

A good American adage is if you break it, you buy it. We have to give these anti-maskers posing as freedom fighters penalties for their infractions against society.  Covid-19 has a financial cost. We can penalize them with this cost. Just in terms of the macro-economic impacts, the more cases we have, the longer it will take to fully reopen the economy. The longer it takes to fully reopen the economy, the less people work. Less people working means less money. The economic loss is huge but unfortunately hard to quantify.

A rough health cost of not wearing a mask is calculable. Most of those infected are probably not being tested. Covid 19 projections estimates that there are 6.7 million people with active Covid-19 infections at the time of writing. A random person in the U.S. would have a 2% chance of being a carrier at this moment. Many of those infected may not be contagious anymore; however, birds of the same feather flock together. Those refusing masks tend to congregate with others who don’t wear masks. Thus, I will conservatively keep a maskless bandit’s risk to presently having the virus at 2%.

One fact that many mask haters accurately harp upon is that there are more asymptomatic and mild cases than had been anticipated. Scripps Research Institute estimates that 45% of the cases are asymptomatic. Moreover, it is true that this will decrease the official mortality rate as more testing is done.  Marm Kilpatrick, an infectious disease researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, as reported in Nature.com, estimates that with the asymptomatic cases, the mortality rate for Covid-19 to be around 0.6%.

Taking the mortality rate at 0.6%, I will make the broad assumption that every one of those who died were on a ventilator. Originally it was reported that  as high as 88% of those with Covid-19 on ventilators died; however, those numbers now are considered inaccurate. Emory researchers put the numbers at 31%. With these numbers, someone infected with Covid-19 would approximately have a 2% chance of being put on a ventilator. Rough estimations of hospitalization would be five times that, or 10%.

Actual item costs are needed for the calculation. Putting a value on life is morbid. However, governments do put numbers on life, and we shall as well. The value for a statistical life as given by the Environmental Protection Agency for a person of 18 years and over was set at 11.5 million dollars.  Considering that Covid-19 patients are typically older,  two Chicago economists, Greenstone and Nigam, adjusted this number for age to get $4.65 million. Average estimated hospitalization costs for pneumonia with Covid was $16,000 and average cost for a patient on a ventilator was about $48,000 for Medicare after the 20% increase due to the Medicare in-patient reimbursement for Covid-19 patients included in the CARES Act.  According to the New York Times, most Covid-19 tests cost $100.

To determine the rough average cost to society of one infected Covid-19 patient, we can multiply the probability of the outcome by its cost and calculate the total sum of all these values. With a very rough estimate, I calculated the health cost incurred on society for one infected to be 30,520 dollars.

Proportion Unit Cost Cost per infected
Testing 0.6 $100 $60
Hospitalization 0.1 $16,000 $1,600
Ventilator 0.02 $48,000 $960
Death 0.006 $4,650,000 $27,900
SUM $30,520
x2.4 $76,300

Covid-19’s estimated reproduction rate, in the absence of any preventive measures, is around 2.4 or higher. Assuming that our anti-maskers do not socially distance as well, one infected mask refusing miscreant statistically would infect 2.4 people. If they were infected, the rough estimated average healthcare cost inflicted on society would be $76,300. Four percent of anti-maskers are estimated to have Covid-19 right now.  Spreading out the cost of infected maskless individuals over all maskless people yields an approximate healthcare cost of $1500 per maskless person for their selfishness, which is higher than the $1200 stimulus check that most individuals received.

Of course the price tag of $1500 is approximate and dependent on many imprecise values. It also does not take into account the economic losses of a drawn-out reopening of the economy and potential second lockdowns due to spikes in cases caused by our anti-maskers. It also does not take into account the compounding effect of having the people they infected further infect others. Nor does it take into consideration the healthcare costs that are incurred on Covid survivors with potential long-term health problems. Thus, this figure is likely to be an underestimate of the societal cost of not wearing a mask.

In the end, the anti-maskers self-aggrandized freedom fighters are nothing more than selfish miscreants who are hurting society under the guise of “freedom.” It is the definition of reckless conduct. There is a real cost, and they should pay. The government has a duty to penalize those who refuse to wear masks, and many states are.

As of the beginning of July, more than 40 states had mask regulations. Texas, a red state, has implemented a potential $250 fine for failure to wear masks in most counties. Washington has a $1000 fine ready for those who fail to adhere to the state-wide mask order. Hawaii tops them all with a potential $5000 fine for not abiding by the mask order. State governments are fully justified in penalizing mask haters. Individual freedom always has to be weighed against the rights of society.

Freedom should never be equated with selfishness.

For further information on this subject, read about whether masks cause carbon dioxide poisoning.