Your cloth masks are doing nothing


Taylor Robertson ’23 is from Lynchburg, Virginia. A finance major and accounting concentration, he is the business manager of The Flat Hat and a founder of the writer’s circle on campus, Novelquest. Email Taylor at

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

If you’re not wearing an N95 to class, I assume you don’t give a s—t anymore. But also, that’s okay: Barely any of us have given a s—t since last spring. Because I didn’t see much of anyone wearing an N95 last fall.

When two people are not wearing a mask, it takes 15 minutes to transmit an infectious dose of COVID-19 from an infected to a non-infected person. When two people are wearing cloth masks, it takes 27 whole minutes to transmit an infectious dose of COVID-19.


This data is according to this chart, accessed via the Wall Street Journal, published in Spring 2021 by the Pandemic Task Force at ACGIH, a scientific organization that studies occupational and environmental health issues.

Note that these figures are Pre-Delta and Pre-Omicron, which are known to be even more transmissible. Basically, since last March, every time you sat down in a fifty-minute long class with just a piece of cloth on your face, you were saying you really didn’t care about catching COVID-19.

Because if you did, you’d be wearing an N95.

Wearing an N95 affords 2.5 hours of protection from an infectious dose of COVID-19, even if an infected person in the room isn’t wearing a mask at all. You’ll get 3.3 hours of protection if the infected person is wearing a cloth mask, but note that both afford protection that exceeds the time you’d be sitting in a class with an infected person. If both the infected and uninfected people are wearing N95s, protection lasts for 25 hours.

What conclusion does this data lead us to? If you’re not wearing an N95 in class this semester, you’re asking to get COVID-19. But also, if all you did was wear your school-mandated piece of cloth all last fall, you weren’t too concerned then either. So why would you start being concerned now?

Personally, I think this data shows us that assuming personal responsibility is the only true form of COVID-19 protection. Only by wearing an N95 personally can you expect to not be infected by COVID-19 during the length of time you’re sitting in a classroom.

Honestly, you and your friend and your friend’s roommate’s girlfriend are all likely to get COVID-19 in these first few weeks we’re back. It’s almost impossible we don’t see a spike of infections like every other college in the nation that’s gone back.

The College of William and Mary has actually committed to disseminating 60,000 KN95 masks to the student body. I was shocked at that email, but I also thought,“ Good on the administration.”

So, you should be getting four  or five  KN95s from our lovely university. Personally, I wore an N95 to class every day last semester, $1 apiece from the Food Lion on Richmond Road. (I mean, I had to wear something, and if I had to wear something I might as well wear the only thing that would actually do anything.)

We haven’t been dealing with any lack of supply of N95s for a year. Basically, there’s no excuse for not wearing one if you don’t want to catch COVID-19. (Good luck with that, by the way!)

But of course there’s still the perfectly valid response, “I don’t care, though. I’m 20, COVID-19 is endemic and I’m likely to get it every year for the rest of my life no matter what I do.” And you’d be right on the money, and I’ll wait with you patiently for the hopeful future semester when the mask mandate gets lifted and cows jump over the moon.

My friend at Notre Dame last semester didn’t have to wear a mask at all, and they have the same vaccine requirements as us. Wonderful, right? The logical acceptance that if there’s not an N95 mandate, we’re really just performing COVID-19 theater?

If the College wants to institute an N95 mandate, that’s fine. I’ll wear it and say, “At least they’re consistent.” But cloth masks just haven’t made sense for a year now. Let’s saddle up with that reality.

Because really, the College should take the mask mandate away if the type of mask does not matter. What’s 27 minutes of protection doing for us, especially when that cloth mask is nowhere to be found at College Delly, which has hundreds of sardine-packed students crossing through the door on weekends.

The cloth mask is doing nothing for us.

If assuming the personal responsibility of wearing an N95 can provide someone hours of protection from an infectious dose of COVID-19 and our school mandates we all wear a piece of loose cloth that only affords us less than half an hour of safe breathing, then it’s obvious what mask choice an individual with COVID-19 concerns should make for themself.

And until that concerned individual puts on that N95 and saves themself from the worst illness since the Black Plague, the mask mandate should be removed and is a mostly useless attempt at shoving responsibility onto the shoulders of other students who are ready to move on from the pandemic era and highly thought of “worst time of our lives so far.”

Or the College can all-around mandate an N95, and follow the science that way. Either way, power to them. I just ask for consistency and reason,  not a stymied sense of new normal for the sake of keeping up appearances. COVID-19 theater: The show must NOT go on. Because I’d like to see people’s faces instead of hearing choice remarks from some rando with cartoon cacti on the piece of billowing cloth falling off their face who is throwing stones from their glass house.

Correction: This article was originally titled “N95 masks are the only option right now,” but changed to “Your cloth masks are doing nothing” to better represent the author’s opinion.



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