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

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Anti-maskers protest 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.

There is a flaw in their argument. The Constitution does not say 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.

The No-harm Rule

Americans typically understand the no-harm rule. 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. Walking dogs in urban centers is permissible as long as owners 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. Thus, why are so many people defending the choice to 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 we have from not wearing 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.

The Need to Lower the Reproduction Number

Protest Sign by anti-maskers "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. 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 46 states had an RT above one. The number of infected in each of the 46 states is likely increasing each day.

Anti-maskers misunderstand why we wear masks. We don’t wear masks to prevent ourselves from being infected. We wear masks to prevent others from getting the disease from us. The masks that we wear decrease the size of the mucus droplets traveling from our mouths when exhaling or coughing. In one simulation, if 80% of people wear masks when they leave their homes, the reproduction rate will comfortably be lower than one. That would eventually quell the pandemic. It should be that simple. The simulation suggests that if people just wear masks, we wouldn’t need any lockdowns.  

Other Countries are Leading the Way

If we can get 80% compliance, we could be done with this pandemic. There are countries that have not had surges of cases. Thailand had barely had any local cases for two months. China, Korea, and Japan are safe though they have the occasional outbreak as they reopen. New Zealand has almost eradicated it. Taiwan has had 200 days without a local case. However, we in the United States are facing a dark fall and winter. By the end of February, current models predict almost total 400,000 deaths. We’re almost where we need to be at it. 69% of us are wearing masks. This is a substantial increase from back from May when roughly 50% of Americans wore masks. But it isn’t enough. We just need one third of those remaining who aren’t wearing masks to change their minds. 

Then we have this group of people in America who just refuse to wear masks. It really seems that the anti-maskers don’t actually care about ending the pandemic. Maybe it’s because they are young and healthy. Maybe it’s because they think Covid-19 is not that serious. Some of them are also pushing the herd-immunity narrative. Whatever their reason, these anti-maskers are actively ignoring the authorities and the science. It sure seems that they’re cheering on the virus in its indiscriminate spread across the country. That isn’t just selfishness. They’re playing for the wrong team.

Their Freedom Costs Money

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 fewer people work. Fewer 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. The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimated that there were 136000 active Covid-19 infections in the U.S. on October 24, 2020 (Not all infections result in testing). Assuming that those infected are infectious for ten days, a random person in the U.S. would have a 0.4% 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 0.8%.

To continue on with the calculations, we need an estimate of the mortality rates. A recent study published in the Lancet looked at the mortality rate in New York City during the first wave. The mortality rate was around 1.39%. Since therapeutics are now available, the mortality rate is probably lower. I will place it at 1.0%.

Taking the mortality rate at 1.0%, I will make the broad assumption that every one of those who died were on a ventilator. Emory researchers have found the chance of dying while on a ventilator to be around 31%. With these numbers, someone infected with Covid-19 would approximately have a 3.2% chance of being put on a ventilator. Rough estimations of hospitalization would be five times that, or 15%.

Calculating the Cost of Anti-maskers

We need the cost of a life to continue with the calculations. Putting a value on life is morbid. However, governments do put numbers on life, and we shall as well. The Environmental Protection Agency has set the value for the statistical life for a person of 18 years and over as 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. The average cost for a patient on a ventilator was about $48,000 for Medicare in-patients.  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 0.15 $16,000 $2,400
Ventilator 0.032 $48,000 $1540
Death 0.010 $4,650,000 $46,500
SUM $50,500
x2.4 $121,200

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. Those are peventable infections that the anti-masker is responsible for. For each person with Covid, society has to pay an estimated average healthcare cost of $121,200. Around 0.8% of anti-maskers are infectious with Covid-19 right now.  Spreading out the cost of infected maskless individuals over all maskless people yields an approximate healthcare cost of $1000 per maskless person for their selfishness. This is almost the same amount as the $1200 stimulus check that most individuals received.

Anti-maskers Should Pay

Of course, the price tag of $1000 is approximate and dependent on many imprecise values. Those who adamantly not wear masks are increasing the probablity of a drawn-out reopening of the economy. This will cost us money. Added onto this, anti-maskers will cause spikes in cases that could spur lockdowns. Lockdowns are crazy expensive.

I am likely understating the number of people who ultimately become sick as a result of these anti-maskers. Each person infected by an anti-maskers is likely to infect others. On top of this, each of those Covid survivors might have to deal with long-term health problems. The total cost of an anti-masker is likely to be much higher than $1000 per person.

In the end, the self-aggrandized freedom fighters are nothing more than selfish miscreants who are hurting society under the guise of “freedom.” They are reckless, and their behavior is incurring a real cost on the society. It is clear. 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 33 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 $100 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.