COVID-19: Why Did Japan Fare Better Than The U.S.?

Because they have a cultural awareness around the value of masks in pandemics and environmental pollution. So while they did a lot of other things ‘wrong’, they wore their masks and did far better than the U.S.

Is the Secret to Japan’s Virus Success Right in Front of Its Face?

When the coronavirus arrived in Japan, people did what they normally do: They put on masks.

Face coverings are nothing new here. During flu and hay fever seasons, trains are crowded with commuters half-hidden behind white surgical masks. Employees with colds, worried about the stigma of missing work, throw one on and soldier into the office.

In the early months of the pandemic, Japan seemed not to follow much of the conventional epidemiological wisdom, deliberately restricting testing and not ordering a lockdown.

Yet a feared spike in cases and deaths has not materialized. Japan has reported more than 17,000 infections and just over 900 deaths, while the United States, with a population roughly two and a half times as large, is approaching 1.9 million cases and 110,000 deaths.

“Japan, I think a lot of people agree, kind of did everything wrong, with poor social distancing, karaoke bars still open and public transit packed near the zone where the worst outbreaks were happening,” Jeremy Howard, a researcher at the University of San Francisco who has studied the use of masks, said of the country’s early response. “But the one thing that Japan did right was masks.”

But one of Japan’s most visible responses has been near-universal mask wearing, seen here as a responsible thing to do to protect oneself and others, and as a small price to pay to be able to resume some semblance of normalcy.

…the Japanese public has used masks during the SARS and MERS outbreaks — which also left Japan relatively unscathed…

Dekai Wu, a professor of computer science and engineering at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, has modeled the potential for mass mask-wearing to significantly reduce infections.

While it may be possible to establish only correlation, not causation, he said, “if the downside is nothing, and the upside is huge, then you take the bet.”

emphasis mine

So when you go out tonight for your fish fry, while you are in public and not at our table, wear your mask!


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