Drink Beer and Mask Up

  • 6/16 Fremont Brewing in Seattle discloses that an employee has been diagnosed as positive and asymptomatic, infected with SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes covid-19. The brewery and taproom are completely shut down for a thorough, time-consuming, expensive sanitizing operation.
  • 6/24 Trap Door Brewing in Vancouver, Washington discloses that an employee has been diagnosed as positive but asymptomatic. Same virus. Same effects. Shutdown. Sanitizing. Time. Money.
  • 6/26 Ex Novo Brewing in Portland discloses that an employee has been diagnosed as positive but asymptomatic also. Same virus. Same effects. Shutdown. Sanitizing. Time. Money.
  • 6/27 Oregon Governor Kate Brown has announced that bars may have to close again if infection rates keep rising.
  • 6/27 Washington Governor Jay Inslee has put a pause on reopening because of increasing infection rates.
  • 6/28 California Governor Gavin Newsom orders Los Angeles County bars closed, recommends bar closure in three other counties.

With all the craziness going on in trying to re-open everything, it’s
time to remind people what needs to be done.

Ex Novo Brewing had one employee test positive for COVID-19

It’s not just breweries and taprooms and bars. It’s food-processing plants, it’s churches, it’s anywhere where more than just a few people gather. It spreads with ease and it spreads quickly. It doesn’t have to be this way. It will be great if effective treatments and a vaccine takes care of this, but that’s not happening soon. What can happen soon, right now, is for everybody to do what Oregon’s governor mandated starting June 24th, and Washington’s governor mandated starting June 26th: wear a mask over your mouth and nose.

Now you hear it said: “Masks don’t do any good anyway, just a chain-link fence doesn’t keep out flying bugs.” Um, no. Viruses aren’t mosquitoes. Viruses don’t “fly.” SARS-Cov-2 is most commonly spread in aerosolized form, carried on droplets of moisture that a person expels when talking, sneezing, coughing. A mask isn’t worn to stop you from getting the virus. It’s to help you prevent spreading it by keeping it contained. If most of the aerosolized droplets carrying the virus don’t get past the barrier provided by that mask, they’re far less likely to infect somebody else. If other people wear their masks, they’re also less likely to inhale it. But the key is _everybody_ wearing masks, and realizing that their primary purpose is to keep the wearer from spreading the virus outward. If I wear a mask, I won’t spread nearly as much aerosolized droplets as not wearing one. If you wear a mask, same. Bonus is also a small degree of protection. I do my bit to keep others safe. They do the same. It’s so simple.

And yet, people still refuse to do this. Why? Is it your “freedom” to potentially infect others, because you might be asymptomatic, and don’t know you’re infected? Mask up! It’s been ordered by the governors in Oregon and Washington. You want to go into a place of business to shop, or to an outdoor beer garden for a tasty local IPA? Mask up! The people working in those places are taking far greater risks than you, and yes, of course they’re masked up. More and more places are now making it mandatory for customers to mask up before they even set foot on the premises. I’ve noted just three craft brewers experiencing tremendous disruption. The infected employees showed up at work, and were unaware they were infected. Have they already spread the virus to others? Maybe. But maybe not, if everybody was required to mask up, and actually did. These businesses are taking no chances. It’s expensive, time consuming, and a lot of work to sanitize an entire brewery and taproom, but that’s what has to be done if just one person there has been diagnosed positive.

Fremont Brewing staff wears masks

How about taking the advice of an actual medical science professional, instead of some self-centered conspiracy monger? Dr. Malcolm Butler, Columbia Valley Community Health medical director, explains it well in the Wenatchee World, in plain language. “When the pandemic began, scientists believed it was similar to influenza,” Dr. Butler explains. “We know a great deal about influenza. The last great pandemic involved influenza. It was a natural place to start. Influenza is spread by droplets, and COVID-19 is spread by droplets, so we deployed influenza-type strategies of hand washing and hygiene, wiping down surfaces, social distancing, etc. When that wasn’t enough, we used more draconian measures that included stay home orders and closing all but essential businesses.

“Now we understand how COVID-19 is not like influenza; let me explain,” Dr. Butler continues. “COVID-19 seems to fit the “eighty-twenty rule” of biology. 80% of the disease is caused by 20% of the transmission. Here’s how that 20% works with this virus. Imagine a keyhole, and only a specific shape can fit through that hole. The COVID-19 virus has a specific shape and must land on a specific keyhole to pass through the lining of your nose, mouth, or lungs and into your bloodstream. These keyholes are spread out randomly. So, it takes multiple hits for a virus to infect you. If you are peppered with enough virus, eventually one will land on the keyhole, pass through and cause an infection. The total volume of virus that peppers your system is the key. How much time you are in contact with an infected person and the time sharing their air determines if you will contract COVID-19.”

Dr. Butler goes on to explain why masking is important: “Outside, humans don’t share much air. Floating droplets dissipate, and we are all pretty safe. Inside, with minimal air movement, we share a lot of air, and receive multiple hits from virus-laden droplets. Thus, carpooling with extended family for celebrations like birthday parties, or even gathering in someone’s living room for a memorial service, with singing and sobbing, are more dangerous.

Little Beast Brewing models their face masks on Portland city streets

“This is why wearing a mask is so important. I must confess that at first the whole universal masking thing made no sense to me. As a physician I have been trained to use a mask in a very specific way to avoid transmitting something like tuberculosis from one patient room to another when working in a hospital. Universal masking violates my medical training. So how could it work?

“In China and Italy and New York City — all of the hot spots — the curves finally started to bend only after universal masking was imposed. Why? Masks, even cloth masks, retain the biggest droplets and those nasty medium sized droplets. Only the small droplets that aren’t very infectious can get through. When an infected person wears a mask, and remember that you are most infectious before you even start to feel sick, the total volume of virus floating around in the air that we share is dramatically reduced. Because 80% of infections come from droplets floating around in the air, the simple act of wearing a mask is enough to stop the pandemic spread. How I wish we had known that in March.”

Dr. Butler concludes: “Masking during COVID-19 is the next best thing to a vaccine.”

Wearing a mask is not more about protecting “freedom” than wearing a seat belt while driving, stopping at traffic lights, or obeying other rules of simple hygiene. And no, masks do not suffocate. The area around your nose and mouth get warm while wearing a mask, and that warm air perceived as “suffocating,” but the fact is, you’re still getting necessary oxygen, and you’re still not being overwhelmed by carbon dioxide.

Beyond that, the actual amount of time necessary to wear a mask is usually a pretty small part of a most days, unless you’re an essential worker in a public-facing job. A half hour at the supermarket, fifteen minutes at the beer shop, and not even that much at the outdoor beer garden. People working in service-industry jobs need to make a living without facing potential severe illness, long-term health effects, or even death. Please have some consideration for them. They’re wearing masks to protect you, the customer, and they need your cooperation to keep their businesses open. At the very least, wear a mask to protect them back. Please! Mask up!

Don Scheidt
Don Scheidt

Don Scheidt has been into good beer since before the dawn of craft brewing in the Pacific Northwest. He created the Northwest Brewpage, a regional guide to good beer in Oregon and Washington, back in the mid-1990s, but has since retired it. Don started writing the Washington state “Puget Soundings” column for Celebrator Beer News in 1998, and continues to do that today. Don also wrote about beer for the Seattle Weekly in 2005-2006.