The dialog of what works and what doesn't work to combat viral infection is fraught with misinformation, unscientific quips and politics. Numbers don't seem to add up, fueling the political climate and implying numbers are inflated and the risk of harm is overstated. Living in the USA, for whatever reason, you are at least 4 times more likely to come into contact with an infected person than overseas. This is a direct result of the behavior of the populace. Assuming consistent behavior is regional, statistics only make sense in the region the numbers represent.

Behavior

The behavior of viral infection IS consistent. The virus multiplies very quickly in a host, regardless of the host's behavior. What the virus does to the host is dependent on how the host immune system responds. Everyone inherits their immune system, therefore the immune system response among genetically similar hosts has the same response. Because the virus causes some immune systems to become hyperactive, the immune system itself causes inflammation and damage to the host as much as the virus itself (maybe more so). A compromised immune system will behave in an erratic manner, which requires using data from these hosts to derive statistics. The data should not be used to derive statistics from hosts with properly functioning immune systems. Where possible, the statistics should be derived only from hosts with the same type of immune system. It is tempting to use race to determine the type of immune system, however, if you've ever had your DNA tested you'll find very few pure blooded humans. A good scientist can navigate these waters, but it takes time and experimentation.

With such a deadly virus running rampant across the globe, it is possible to determine which behaviors are effective. This partially explains why some countries can suppress and outbreak in 6 weeks...

7 Pandemic Differences Between the U.S. and Europe

Prevention

A lot of people get through an infection without much difficulty or lasting effects. The people who don't either die or have lasting effects. These permanent effects can be annoying or debilitating. It can be likened to being in a car accident.

Because using a mask for protection does not have immediate feedback, it's difficult for people to determine if they are effective. Studies do not often agree, but looking at what the study did to determine a conclusion can help you figure out which studies are bullshit and which are not...

Mask Confusion Settled: Here’s How Effective They Are

This looks like a pretty good explanation of what a mask actually does and how effective it is. Even if you don't know what a micron is, you'll at least know which type of mask to use and how effective you can expect it to be.

This diagram from the artcile is quite interesting...

Credit: Ian M. Mackay, PhD, a professor of virology at the University of Queensland in Australia

Wearing a Mask Analogy

a·nal·o·gy| əˈnaləjē | noun (plural analogies)
a comparison between two things, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification

Wearing a mask can be compared to driving a car. Everyone knows that the behavior of a driver determines how likely the car will crash. What happens when a car crashes is determined by the type of car and type of accident. Obviously, driving off a bridge has a pretty deterministic outcome. Bumping into a car when parking is also has a pretty well understood outcome. Hitting another car while going the same direction is much less dangerous than hitting something head on.

I think you get the picture. The result of an encounter is immediate and something we've experienced, therefore we understand cause and effect.

Wearing a mask is not immediate. The only experience we have is when we get infected, which is too late. Even then, the behavior that allowed the infection does not have immediate effect and therefore cause and effect is unclear. Therefore, we must look at what happens around us to determine cause and effect. This includes interpreting reports from news people and scientists.

TV news reports are a bunch of quips. Setting up context is rarely done (takes too much air time). Giving a complete report, including how it was done is left for new magazines. These reports are worse than useless and often contradictory. The news agency takes no responsibility for inaccuracies, basically playing the victim. This makes a TV news report the LAST place to get important information from which you determine how to save your own life and the life of others, not to mention your job, house and staying fed.

I digress. So, if you don't wear a mask, it's equivalent to not using your sight when driving. Maybe you can't see very well at night. A lot of people won't drive at night because they can't see well enough, it scares them. And it should.

Let's try a thought experiment (don't do this for real). Imagine closing your eyes while driving on an expressway with cruise control on. Everyone is going the same direction, some people are changing lanes, some cars are entering from ramps at a consistent rate. How long can you keep your eyes closed before getting into an accident? It depends, but after a certain amount of time, the road will turn, someone will be going too slow, whatever, you WILL hit something. How long are you willing to keep your eyes closed? A minute is obviously too long. 30 seconds? 20 seconds? 10 seconds? 10 seconds is still a really long time on an expressway. I'm guessing somewhere between 2 and 5 seconds is the limit for most people.

How long are you comfortable not wearing a mask? Given the study above, most masks in use today are effective at reducing infections for the others AND YOURSELF, when worn properly. Here's your choices:

Never wear a mask, you have no protection. You will get infected.

Wear a mask improperly, you can trap viruses and get infected.

Wear a mask properly when around people who may be infected. You are much less likely to get infected, see above for how much less. It's probably equivalent to driving down the highway at 30 miles over the speed limit in the USA and closing you eyes for 2 seconds. In other countries after the outbreaks have been squelched, you're probably driving the speed limit.

Wear a mask ALL the time, probably not much better than wearing a mask around people who may be infected. Wear it incorrectly, use the wrong mask infection is probably higher if you encounter the virus.

Stay away from anyone who may not be taking effective precautions. This is probably just as effective as wearing a mask around people who may be infected.