"This is a matter, literally, of life and death."

By Claire Gillespie
July 10, 2020
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If you still need convincing that wearing a face mask in public is the right thing to do during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," is on hand to break it down. 

The host of Bill Nye Saves the World shared two videos to TikTok that have gone viral—for all the right reasons. Even New York Governor Andrew Cuomo shared part of the Science Guy's video on Twitter. 

Nye—who received a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University, and holds honorary doctorate degrees from six different universities—begins with a question many people have asked over the last few weeks: “Why do people in the scientific community want you to wear a face mask when you're out in public?” 

He’s quick to provide the answer: “Face masks, like this one, prevent particles from my respiratory system from getting into the air and then into your respiratory system."

Nye, 64, then goes on to show how effectively different face coverings block airflow, starting with a scarf. After placing it over his mouth, he blows at a candle—and it goes out. "It can block the movement of air, but only to a certain extent," Nye explains. Not the most effective option, then.

Next, Nye puts on a homemade face mask made out of two layers of cloth and a pipe cleaner. This time, when he blows at the candle, the flame barely moves. Much more effective, then. “If you're wearing one of these, you are protecting yourself and those around you," Nye says.

The third and final option Nye shares in the video is an N95 mask, which is the recommended face mask for health professionals because it can filter out very small particles that could possibly contain the virus. "These are made to block particles in the medical environment, and when you're out mowing the lawn," he says. Nye’s video demonstrates just how effective the N95 mask is. "This one's not sterilized, but it's still pretty effective," he says, right before putting on the mask and blowing as hard as he can—and the flame doesn’t even flicker.

But Nye’s not quite finished. “The reason we want you to wear a mask is to protect you, sure,” he says. "But the main reason we want you to wear a mask is to protect me, from you, and the particles from your respiratory system from getting into my respiratory system.” He continues, "Everybody, this is a matter, literally, of life and death. And when I use the word 'literally,' I mean literally, a matter of life and death.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public when they are around people outside of their household, particularly it’s difficult to maintain social distancing. And as states reopen from stay-at-home orders, many of them have their own mandates requiring people to wear face coverings in most public spaces to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The final words from the Science Guy: “So when you’re out in public, please wear a mask.”

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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