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Air is hard. People do not seem to get it or can’t be bothered. I’ve watched this play out both during the choking California wildfires and the current Coronavirus pandemic. Air goes in the body, air goes out of the body. I see so many people having heated arguments and confusion now about what masks to wear, wearing masks incorrectly, what’s effective, and how you must hate America if you are sheeple wearing a mask in public (what?). Fuck, people are getting outright assaulted or killed over wearing masks.

I don’t pretend to be an epidemiologist, I just want to talk about air. I like air.  I guess the point of all this is that masks, face coverings, et al, do have a purpose, they’re not completely useless, but lots of people don’t seem to reason through it.

Masks and respirators are different, having different jobs depending if air is going in, or going out. Masks catch things going out, like sneezes, spit, snot; they’re generally loose against the face and on inhale air can easily come in from the sides. Basic respirators will catch things going in, like sawdust, smoke, asbestos, bacteria, and mold, because when worn properly they form a tight seal against the skin around the mouth and nose; air has to go through the filter medium to get into your body.

However! Adding an extra caveat in today’s world, most consumer and professional respirators are only designed to filter air coming in, and have a valve to allow air to go out unobstructed for comfort.  Medical respirators are solid (no valves) and will filter air in and air out, and are a little more moisture proof.

Bay Area air quality index 2018

During the 2018 Paradise fire, the Bay Area was blanketed for days in smoke. It was very obvious when you walked outside and could smell it (and quite frankly, taste it). The government air quality index considers a “Good” AQI to be on the order of 0-50; during the worst, where I lived hit around ~180, “Unhealthy” for people with heart/lung disease; just over the hills in Livermore they easily hit ~270, “Very Unhealthy”, all older adults and children should avoid physical activity outdoors.

The tiny particles of burned up houses (PM2.5) that could irritate the lungs were only filtered out if you had a N95 respirator or better. Yet many people were walking around wearing surgical masks instead of respirators. I would’ve expected this to work itself out, “Geee, I’m going to all the trouble to wear this thing on my face and I still smell burning smoke, what ever could be the problem? Maybe I don’t have the right thing?”  Alas, it didn’t, many people still walked around with surgical masks loosely dangling off their ears, still inhaling smoke from around the sides of the mask.  I guess, oh it’s good enough?

Today we’re dealing with both air in and air out. We want to filter droplets from entering the respiratory tract that may have Coronavirus in it, this protects the wearer. We want to filter droplets from leaving the body, when we breath out, talk, sneeze, cough, this protects everyone around us.

Duration matters too, there’s a huge difference between walking somebody in the store and being in close proximity to somebody else for hours on in end in closed quarters.

I feel like most people finally understand the former case, air-in. Wearing a respirator directly protects the wearer, such as a healthcare worker, or your parent.


“But I’m not sick! Why do I have to wear a mask to go to the grocery store! You’re all stupid sheeple!”

Now we’re up to the air-out case, with the added bonus of contagion. The big problem: lack of early symptoms of covid, or a complete lack of symptoms. It’s been shown that a person is most contagious right before they start showing symptoms.  A person could be breathing/spitting/slobbering infectious particles for days before realizing they are sick and decide to stay inside and away from others.

The elephant in the room are asymptomatic carriers. It’s been shown there’s a likely a huge amount of asymptomatic carriers walking around that have no idea that they’re infected because they never feel sick, breathing/spitting/slobbering particles forever that could make other people sick. 60% of sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt that tested positive for covid did not have symptoms. I frankly assume I have a good chance of being an asymptomatic carrier because I live near some of California’s hot spots. We won’t know we’re asymptomatic until we get some sort of test that can detect the presence.


The thing en vogue today is “mask” or “face covering”.  This is dealing with air-out and the blast radius of your breath/spit/slobber/snot. It’s true, masks are not filters. They will not filter out every micron of air leaving your body. But, they help you from breathing/spitting/slobbering particles (which is what viruses ride outside) all over the produce at grocery store, the handlebars on the train, or gym equipment. In the former case I mentioned above, a face cover could help reduce (not eliminate!) the spread before you can take yourself out.  I don’t have numbers on how effective face covering are, but it seems pretty obvious that it limits your blast radius before particles get a chance to fall out of the air.

This is where we start running into problems with respirators with valves, which can be a false sense of security depending on the intended purpose. If the intent in the current state of the world is to filter air-out to protect others, air is not being filtered at all on exhales. At best it’s just slowing down the air and limiting your blast radius. The joke is I could wear my full-face gas mask with P100 filters in a crowded store, I would protect myself all day long from others, but my bad breath goes right out the front without any sort of filtering.

(Technically I’m kind of boned because even though I trimmed my beard way back, my mask can’t get a solid seal so some air still gets in around the sides)

Nose cockers, why do you do this

My #1 pet peeve is people walking around wearing a mask but only covering their mouth, leaving their nose dangling out. I saw this as far back as the beginning of March. Your nose hole and mouth hole are directly connected inside your head, you’re still either exposing others or exposing yourself. Why intentionally half ass-it?  Whyyyyyyyyyyyy? The majority aren’t wearing glasses so I know fogging isn’t an issue. Either wear a mask or not, I don’t care. Whyyyyyyyyy do people do this?

I still don’t get the earlier kerfuffle from earlier this year where CDC., et al., were telling us not to wear a mask, wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, wear a face covering. No wonder people are confused and revolting about masks. I actually saw the same thing during the California wildfires, some health officials were saying not to wear a mask.


Happy birthday to me

Want to stir up a shit storm? Post a photo of yourself wearing a mask. Holy shit, the Internet has opinions about this and they will let you know. I get it, people on principle are against the government telling them what to do, and there’s been advocacy for shaming people in public for not wearing a mask, even if they’re nowhere near anyone else or a crowded spot.

For the record I’ll wear my buff when I go into stores or the office, but not while I’m out on walks around the ‘hood because people literally go out of their way to avoid each other. Personally I get a kick walking around masked up like a cartel hitman and it’s totally cool to do these days. I haven’t had an excuse to walk into my credit union with a mask on, but have had to pull it down a few times when I get ID checked for beer.

My other hot takes on present memes:

“hurrr durrr but if I fart in my pants, I still smell it, that means cloth doesn’t filter shit”  Technically it did have substantial effect, when you farted, you did not spray shit droplets six feet away.

“hurrr durrr take that goddamn mask off, you’re American!”   err sorry for carrying about your health?

Then again, maybe air really is hard and people are fed up with trying to understand the details. They just want somebody to tell them to what to do today, or maybe not. I largely suspect many people are just wearing a mask for the appearance of due diligence. I guess also a large percent of the population have never had to wear any sort of protective equipment while working around fumes/dust/mold/construction/sawdust and have never experienced the differences.

Also for fucks sake people stop throwing your latex gloves away in the Target parking lot. Think of the sea turtles.

We also have people that think 5G radio waves transmit the virus, so maybe we’re all doomed.

#2020 keeps on delivering. I’m tired of the mask ordeal, I’ve moved onto our upcoming food shortages.

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