Some Masks Are Better Than Others; The Rich Aren't Spending : Consider This from NPR While President Trump wants to celebrate an uptick in retail sales as states reopen, there's still a long way to go before the economy is back on track. Part of the problem is that the wealthiest Americans are saving their cash rather than spending it.

More and more people are leaving their home without a face covering, but experts tell NPR's Maria Godoy they really do help — some more than others.

There has been growing support of the Black Lives Matter movement among white Americans. But why now? Police brutality isn't new. Gene Demby of NPR's Code Switch podcast explains what the pandemic might have to do with it.

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This episode was recorded and published as part of this podcast's former 'Coronavirus Daily' format.
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Which Masks Are Better; The Rich Aren't Spending (And That's Hurting The Economy)

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Which Masks Are Better; The Rich Aren't Spending (And That's Hurting The Economy)

Which Masks Are Better; The Rich Aren't Spending (And That's Hurting The Economy)

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Hey there. Before we get started, we just wanted to let you know that pretty soon, we're going to start bringing you stories on this show that are about more than just the pandemic. We know that people are looking for news about lots of things right now, not just the virus. But that said, we are still in the thick of this thing, and we want you to know that this show will always be a place where you can get the latest news about the pandemic. Let us know what you think. Email us at OK. Here's the show.

There's a story going around - maybe you've seen it - that sort of says it all about where we are right now. It starts on June 6 when Erika Crisp and a bunch of her friends wanted to go out. So that night, a Saturday in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., they wound up at Lynch's Irish Pub - live music every night.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Erika Crisp is not being shy about what she says happened to her and 15 of her friends. She tells us they all tested positive for coronavirus after a night out in Jacksonville Beach.

MCEVERS: Erika told the city's Channel 4 news station the only thing she and her friends can trace it back to is that one Saturday night at that one bar.


ERIKA CRISP: We've all been stuck indoors for months, being careful, social distancing, doing everything the right way. And then the first night we go out, Murphy's Law, I guess.

MCEVERS: Erika is recovering. The bar closed after at least seven employees tested positive, too. But they say they plan to be back next week. Erika now says the reopening happened too soon.


CRISP: So this is a lesson for everyone - for all of us.

MCEVERS: Coming up, why some masks are better than others and what the pandemic has to do with more white people actively protesting police brutality. This is CORONAVIRUS DAILY from NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It is Wednesday, June 17.


MCEVERS: Here's a misleading tweet from the president on Tuesday. Wow, he wrote around 8:30 in the morning, May retail sales show biggest one-month increase of all time, up 17.7%. And yeah, technically, that's true. It was an increase compared to April. But let's be clear. That's when most of the country was shut down and spending plummeted. So if you turn the economy back on and things start to return to their base level, it's just an increase. A lot of businesses are still in trouble.


DEBORAH WEINSWIG: It's staggering the amount of bankruptcies we've seen, and I think that's only accelerating as everyone's been truly trying to figure out their finances.

MCEVERS: Deborah Weinswig with Coresight Research tracks bankruptcies and permanent closures at major retail chains. She predicts 25,000 stores will close this year, the majority of them in malls.


WEINSWIG: It's evident that, you know, we will see greater bankruptcies. And it's not just retail; it's restaurants. And that also impacts the health of a mall.

MCEVERS: The U.S. is still nowhere near the kind of spending we saw before the pandemic. And what spending is coming back isn't coming back evenly.


NATHAN HENDREN: When the stimulus checks went out, you see that spending by lower-income households went up a lot. Spending by higher-income households didn't go up by as much.

MCEVERS: Nathan Hendren at Harvard University has been tracking how Americans are spending their money. And he says lower-income people got their $1,200 government check, used it to pay some bills and are spending almost as much as they did before the pandemic. But wealthier Americans - they're leaving their money in the bank.


HENDREN: From the perspective of people who are not living paycheck to paycheck, the main concern here is really fighting the virus.

MCEVERS: People who make more money aren't traveling. They're not eating out or shopping. They're focused on their health and riding out the pandemic.


HENDREN: And unless we remove the threat of getting sick or getting your family members sick, it's hard to imagine that that spending will recover to the pre-COVID levels.

MCEVERS: Consumer spending is a huge part of the economy. And two-thirds of the total drop in spending since January, Hendren says, came from just the wealthiest quarter of Americans, which means the economy might not be fully back to normal until the virus is no longer a threat.


MCEVERS: Scientists are figuring out that some masks are better than others. They say it depends on all sorts of things - size, shape, the number of layers, even the type of fabric. Here's NPR's Maria Godoy.


MARIA GODOY: Folks, there is still a pandemic out there. And every expert I've spoken with says masks can help.

JEFFREY SHAMAN: It's very powerful as a tool to control the virus.

GODOY: Jeffrey Shaman is a researcher and epidemiologist at Columbia University.

SHAMAN: I personally think that face masks are a key component of the non-pharmaceutical arsenal we have to combat COVID-19.

GODOY: Now, it's understandable if some people remain skeptical since, at the beginning of the pandemic, public health officials in the U.S. said the general public didn't need masks. But that changed as it became clear that infected people can spread the coronavirus before they even show symptoms of COVID-19 or even if they never show symptoms.

Linsey Marr of Virginia Tech studies the airborne transmission of viruses. She says people can spread the virus even if they're just talking.

LINSEY MARR: If you're talking - when things are coming out of your mouth, they're coming out fast, and they're going to slam into the cloth mask. I think even a low-quality mask can block a lot of those droplets.

GODOY: Marr points to one study that looked at people infected with the flu and seasonal coronaviruses. It found that even loose-fitting surgical masks blocked almost all the contagious droplets they breathed out and even some aerosols, too. And a study published just last week found that if the majority of people wore face masks in public, even just homemade ones, that could dramatically reduce transmission of the virus.

Now, researchers will tell you that masks don't provide foolproof protection. And teasing out the science of masks will take time. But Linsey Marr says there's enough evidence already to say that, combined with measures like social distancing, masks really do help.

MARR: From what I've seen, I think, you know, I would be comfortable sending my kids back to school if everyone's wearing masks and they're staying as far apart as possible.

GODOY: The World Health Organization agrees. Earlier this month, the WHO changed its advice on masks. It now recommends that healthy people wear cloth masks in public, especially when they can't maintain social distance. Epidemiologist May Chu helped craft the WHO's new mask guidance.

MAY CHU: What we found was that you need to have several layers, and each of these layers can give you some specific level of protection.

GODOY: Chu says a good option is a multilayer mask with a pocket. The inner and outer layers should be made of a tight-woven fabric. Cotton works well. In the pocket, use a filter, preferably a double layer of a material called polypropylene.

CHU: If you go to Walmart, look for Oly-Fun, which is the brand name of that fabric.

GODOY: That's spelled O-L-Y-F-U-N if you're taking notes. Chu says the fabric is great as a filter, but it has another benefit. It holds an electrostatic charge that can trap infectious droplets coming into or out of a mask. Another good option - take two sheets of tissue paper, fold them over and put them inside your mask.

CHU: The four layers of paper gives you adequate protection.

GODOY: Shape also matters. Cloth masks that are cupped to fit tight to your face and those with pleats or folds both do a better job of filtering air than masks with flat fronts. And one last tip - avoid masks with a valve in the front. That valve lets unfiltered air out, so it won't protect other people if you're contagious. And after all, protecting others is one of the main reasons to wear a mask in the first place.


MCEVERS: NPR science editor Maria Godoy.


MCEVERS: OK. So you've heard us say that here on the show we are going to start focusing on news that's not just about the pandemic. And soon, we're going to give the podcast a new name, Consider This. As part of that plan, there are going to be other people guiding you through the show, like NPR host Ailsa Chang. Today, she's talking to another NPR colleague about why white Americans suddenly seem more invested in the movement against police brutality and what the pandemic has to do with it. Here's Ailsa.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: In the three weeks since George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, NPR's Code Switch, our podcast about race and identity, has been swamped with new listeners and new followers on social media.

GENE DEMBY: We felt like a gym on New Year's but for racism. Over the...

CHANG: Gene Demby is co-host of the show. The new attention lined up with recent public opinion polls - polls that showed big jumps in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement. At the same time, books like "How To Be Anti-Racist" and "White Fragility," which have appeared on reading lists aimed at white consumers, are some of the bestselling books out there right now.


DEMBY: So I was curious. There were all these new white people following us on our social media accounts. So I just wanted to pose to them this question - like, what has changed about you or the world that made this an activating moment?

CHANG: Gene and I talked about that. He said, yes, the killing of George Floyd by police was horrific to watch, but it was not the first video like that that white Americans have seen.


DEMBY: So we got a lot of responses. And, you know, caveats - this was not at all scientific. This was literally just Instagram messages. But people were really candid. And so there were three big themes that kept coming up in the responses - the first, President Trump. He was cited either directly or obliquely in almost everybody's responses. Some people said they did not think about these issues under the Obama administration. But we're now grappling what it meant to have a president who was such a demagogue on race and who had such loyal support while he was doing it.

There were quite a few people who said that President Trump's election had just made them more politically active in general. They went to women's marches. They joined local groups and online groups. And so when this moment arrived, they were just more practiced, you know, as protesters, as people, like, engaging in protest movements.

CHANG: That's fascinating. I mean - OK. So Trump was one big theme you have been hearing. But what's another that you've noticed?

DEMBY: The other one was white peer pressure. So I got a lot of responses from people saying that this time, they had pressure from other white folks in their social circles. And as we always talk about, most white people's social circles are white. But it wasn't just, like, pressure. It was also permission. A lot of people said that they finally had space to talk about these things.

CHANG: And I imagine a third big reason this time feels different is we're also in the middle of a pandemic.

DEMBY: Yes. The pandemic came up a lot as well. So people said they had no trust in the country's leadership during this particularly harrowing moment that we're living through. The pandemic has also interrupted people's routines. A lot of people said they've been stuck at home watching this really grim news over the last several months. People said they felt particularly vulnerable, both physically and economically, right now.

CHANG: So Gene, would it be fair to say that white people's attitudes about race maybe are slowly changing, but the social and the political context matter just as much the last several weeks?

DEMBY: That's what it seemed like. So I spoke to Nicole Fisher, who is a social psychologist and a contributor to Forbes. She basically predicted that we would see protests and unrest because we have all the kindling for social disruption - a broad lack of faith or trust in the people in charge. You have shared grievances. You have shared intensity. And you have this permission from the crowd. And pandemics, she said, have historically supercharged these things and led to political foment and civil disobedience.


NICOLE FISHER: All of a sudden, you have an introduction of a lot of white people who are also angry with the government. They're angry with authority. And as you said, now you're forced to wear a mask. You're anonymous. And away we go.

CHANG: OK. So you have this kindling, and I guess then you would just need a match. And George Floyd's and Breonna Taylor's killings were just, like, the matches here.

DEMBY: Yeah. And I think it's important to remember that for black communities, for Indigenous communities, for Latinx communities, this kindling is essentially the baseline - not lockdowns, per se, but, you know, police and authorities who control your movement. And in a lot of communities, you know, the threat of deportation is a real thing. So there's plenty of kindling always there. And as these videos keep making apparent to people who don't live in those communities, there's always plenty of matches.

CHANG: Gene Demby of NPR's Code Switch team.

Thank you so much, Gene.

DEMBY: Thank you, Ailsa.

MCEVERS: That was Ailsa Chang. She hosts a radio show here at NPR called All Things Considered. You'll be hearing more from her and the other hosts of that show on this podcast soon. There's a link in our episode notes where you can find the latest Code Switch episode, which is called, "Why Now, White People?" And for more on the coronavirus, you can stay up to date with all the news on your local public radio station.

I'm Kelly McEvers. We will be back with more tomorrow.

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