The Shift in Science

The first case of coronavirus in Worcester was confirmed on March 14, 2020, but back then, the benefits of face masks for the average citizen were far from clear. On March 9, 2020, the City of Worcester published a short informational video on their official website titled “COVID-19: Should I wear a mask?” In the video, Michael P. Hirsh, the Medical Director of the City of Worcester Division of Public Health, argued that cloth and paper masks were not effective at stopping the spread of the virus, citing a Surgeon General study that found people shed the virus more when wearing a mask than if they weren’t wearing one. At a press conference a few days later—after the first COVID-19 case in Worcester was announced—City Manager Edward M. Augustus said: “These events are changing rapidly, the guidance that we’re receiving from the (Centers for Disease Control) and Massachusetts Department of Public Health is changing rapidly.”

City of Worcester: Disabused "COVID-19 Should I wear a mask?" Video

Official Worcester “COVID-19 Should I wear a mask?” Disabused Video Screenshot from March 9, 2020.

Today, we know this is far from the truth: wearing a face mask is indeed an effective way to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus. On May 6, 2020, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued the first of the state’s mask mandates, requiring everyone who is over 2 years old and unable to remain 6 feet away from others in public to wear a face mask. By early November 2020, Governor Baker had issued another mask mandate—this time for everyone 5 years or older and regardless of distance from others—in order to combat the winter surge of COVID-19 cases. On January 26, 2021, the Telegram & Gazette even reported that Dr. Fauci now advocates for “double masking” after studies found that an extra layer could further increase protection from virus particles. 

As this pandemic has unfolded, we’ve witnessed firsthand the evolution of face masks and our understanding of them. Now, as we look ahead to a COVID-free future, it’s becoming more and more clear that the story of masks isn’t over just yet.

The Shift in Science