In our interactions around the state, we have seen “that guy.”

The guy who is not — under any circumstance — going to wear a mask.

And now there is proof that “that guy” has had an effect on the pandemic across the state.

The report, “Prevalence of Face Mask Wearing in Northern Vermont in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic” was published in Public Health Reports.

The researchers monitored the entrances to public businesses and visually assessed age, sex and face mask use. They collected 1,004 observations during May 2020. Businesses included grocery, hardware and convenience stores, as well as a golf course. Fifteen of 16 business locations were in Chittenden County, as were most observations (893 of 1,004). Chittenden County is the most urbanized and densely populated county in Vermont, containing 26.2% of the state population. Observations (111 of 1,004) also were collected in adjacent Franklin County.

Vermont reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 7, 2020. Gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency six days later, followed by a series of orders to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These orders included a “stay home, stay safe” order March 24 that directed the closure of in-person operations for all nonessential businesses and mandated that the public remain at home unless leaving for reasons critical to health or safety. On May 15, the order was updated to “be smart, stay safe,” which relaxed the previous restrictions, began the process of reopening businesses, and asked Vermonters to socially distance and use face masks in public. Businesses were allowed to reopen and Vermont did not require face mask use.

According to the study, 758 sampled people used a face mask, or 75.5%. A higher percentage of females than males wore face masks (83.8% vs 67.6%). The odds of face mask use were lower among males than females. Face mask use generally decreased with decreasing age: 91.4% among adults over 60; 70.7% among adults ages 26-60; 74.8% among people ages 15-25; and 53.3% among children under 14. Overall, males up to age 60 were the least likely to wear face masks.

“Our final model, which included age and sex as fixed effects and business identity as a random effect, estimated that the odds of a male using a face mask were 52.4% the odds of a female using a face mask,” the report states.

The study does not speculate on the reasons behind why younger men are less likely to wear a mask. Sociologists can point to political motivations. In June 2020, Scientific American published a commentary titled, “The Condoms of the Face: Why Some Men Refuse to Wear Masks.”

The commentary, written by Emily Willingham, opens, “In the midst of rapidly rising case counts and hospitalizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, a small but incredibly loud segment of U.S. society has adamantly refused to wear masks. Many of them are men, who seem to view masks as emasculating face condoms that must be rejected. … In reality, whether it’s a mask or a condom, resistance to these barrier methods of protection — both of which keep the wearer from transmitting a virus to someone else — clearly presents a danger to public health. A man without a mask is willfully endangering people around him by refusing to block his spit and the viruses it could contain. Why would he take these risks to himself and to others?”

The Vermont-based researchers conclude it comes down to education and messaging. Wearing a mask became the standard. And across Vermont we saw that mask-wearing was effective at reducing the transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.1. Until mandates went into place, we saw that leaving face mask wearing to individual choice was not helping mitigate the problem.

It took a tremendous amount of pressure to get many Vermonters to do the right thing and wear a mask.

“Studies such as ours provide information for assessing both demographic effects on face mask use and baseline information for regional comparisons or to assess regional trends in face mask use across time. Achieving high levels of face mask use ... may be effective in reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, and a focus on messaging to males and younger people, who have lower rates of face mask use than females and older adults, is needed to increase the overall prevalence of face mask use to help meet this goal,” the study states.

Scientifically speaking, macho and pigheaded put more Vermonters in danger.

It should not take peer pressure and mandates to get “that guy” to exercise common sense and see the public health threat still killing people every day.

Listen to the facts; trust the science. Think about someone other than yourself.

Now, let’s talk about all of that road rage.

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